Saturday, March 17, 2018
Above: "Ineconomy," a lithograph by Vera Berdich (1915-2003), created while she was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Above: "Industry," an oil painting by Arthur Durston (1889-1938), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Much of Durston's work focused on misery, and was once called "too depressing." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Above: "Starving Woman," an artwork by Marjorie Eakins (1910-1974), probably created during her time in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Ackland Art Museum.
Above: "The Farmer's Kitchen," a painting by Ivan Albright (1897-1983), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1933-1934. A description for this painting notes: "Wrinkles multiply over her drooping flesh, speaking too eloquently of years full of ceaseless labor." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Above: "Women of Flint," an oil painting by Joseph Vavak (1891-1969), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Above: A close-up of one of the women in Vavak's painting.
Above: These former Arkansas farmers, now migrants, are building a shack near a landfill in Bakersfield, California, 1935. Photo by Dorothea Lange, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Above: The description for this 1935 photograph, taken in Arkansas, reads, "Family living in cave until it was condemned by social workers." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
America is not a democracy. It never was, and it still isn't
Though we've come close at times, America has never been a democracy. During much of our history, blacks, women, and those without property were disenfranchised. Today, gerrymandering, strategic (i.e., underhanded) placement of voting sites, and other voting suppression efforts (almost always carried out by the political right) waters-down or cancels-out our votes. Also, the dominance of the two major political parties--facilitated largely by millionaire & billionaire funding--severely limits our voting choices. Misinformation campaigns, corporate-control of the media, manipulated research (again, facilitated by millionaire & billionaire donors), and cuts to education brainwash the public into consistently voting against its own physical, mental, and economic well-being. And so, the essential needs of the people are routinely steamrolled by the "me-me-me" preferences of the super-wealthy (see, e.g., "Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans," Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 11, No. 1 (March 2013).
America is best described as a plutocracy with some democratic window-dressing... just enough window-dressing to keep the masses in a state of intellectual coma.
American plutocracy decimates us. It commits infanticide; it keeps us chained to bone-breaking debt; it leads us to unhappiness and tempts us with suicide; it forces us to drink lead from old water lines or offers the alternative of bottled water filled with plastic particles; it forces us to sit by helplessly--or speak out impotently--when our government unleashes an endless array of missiles, bombs, and bullets for ambiguous, suspicious, never-achieved goals. Plutocracy seeks to destroy family and community. It annihilates the common good, it cultivates the darkness in us, and then pulverizes any remaining hope.
Of course, there's a flip-side to this too: If you're fortunate enough to have a lot of money, plutocracy will serve you very well. Like Cerberus guarding & suppressing the doomed, plutocracy will ensure that you'll never have to share the "American Dream" with any of the masses locked away in Economic Hades. Plutocracy's stagnant wages, coerced debt, debt-relief restrictions, and puppet leaders ensure the outcome - and defend the caste system. As billionaire Tom Steyer said not too long ago, "There is an absolute, unspoken war between corporate interests and the American people... We're seeing a deliberate attempt to take away [working families'] future by really rich people."
A witness to plutocracy's wicked toll
"I have seen and heard a lot over the past two weeks... I witnessed a San Francisco police officer telling a group of homeless people to move on but having no answer when asked where they could move to,
I heard how thousands of poor people get minor infraction notices which seem to be intentionally designed to quickly explode into unpayable debt, incarceration, and the replenishment of municipal coffers,
I saw sewage filled yards in states where governments don't consider sanitation facilities to be their responsibility,
I saw people who had lost all of their teeth because adult dental care is not covered by the vast majority of programs available to the very poor,
I heard about soaring death rates and family and community destruction wrought by prescription and other drug addiction,
I met with people in the South of Puerto Rico living next to a mountain of completely unprotected coal ash which rains down upon them bringing illness, disability and death."
--NYA Professor of Law Philip Alston, "Statement on Visit to the USA, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights," December 15, 2017, United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner
Thursday, March 15, 2018
Above: A WPA mattress-making project in Savannah, Georgia, 1936. These types of projects were numerous in the early years of the WPA, and then tapered off as the mattress industry complained about the competition (but most people receiving WPA mattresses were probably too broke to afford nice new "private-sector" mattresses anyway). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: WPA workers making comforters in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, 1936. In addition to helping low-income Americans, WPA bedding items frequently helped disaster victims. For example, in 1937 it was reported that large quantities of WPA mattresses, comforters, sheets, and pillow cases were being sent to flood victims in southern Indiana ("WPA Workers Making Bedding for Refugees," Muncie Evening Press (Muncie, Indiana), January 26, 1937). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: WPA workers making quilts in Los Angeles, ca. 1935-1943. A 1938 Florida newspaper reported quilts being made for some low-income families, as well as the "Plant City jail and for an orphanage in Arcadia" ("WPA Workers Make 23,839 Articles For 20,416 Poor Tampans," The Tampa Tribune, October 30, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A woman making a quilt in a WPA sewing room project in New Albany, Indiana, ca. 1935-1943. Every so often, WPA quilts are remembered by historians and hobbyists. For example, in 1992, the Indianapolis Museum of Art exhibited historic quilts: "The selection of 10 American quilts dates from the 1850s to the present and includes Amish, Hawaiian, historic 19th century and WPA quilts. They exemplify the different styles of American heritage" ("Museum Displays American Quilts," The Republic (Columbus, Indiana), January 16, 1992). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A WPA housekeeping aid in Louisiana makes sure that this ill 77-year-old woman is comfortable in her bed, ca. 1935-1943. WPA housekeeping aids visited the homes of low-income people-in-need and helped them with household chores, cooking, and childcare. It's hard to imagine anything like this today. Our modern American government--inspired by the demented teachings of Ayn Rand--has made its view quite clear: If you're not rich, you don't matter (indeed, the political right believes that pain, suffering, and food deprivation are good tools to make the poor work harder - "working two jobs and still can't make ends meet? Still can't afford health insurance? Well, get a third job you lazy parasite! You aren't worthy of rest, leisure, or medical care."). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: "Sleep," a painting by Maxim H. Lubovsky, created in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Genesee Valley Council on the Arts.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Above: A WPA musician plays the harp in New York City, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: "Miss Manchester's Musical Program for Homeless Men," a lithograph by Elizabeth Olds (1896-1991), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Above: The WPA's "Commonwealth Women's Orchestra" performing in Boston, Massachusetts, ca. 1935-1943. The Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43 (1946) explains that "Although there had never been any doubt of the deep and wide interest in music in this country, the WPA music projects revealed that more of our people enjoyed good music than had been realized. These projects stimulated the demand for the teaching of music... and encouraged the hope that regular community orchestras would be established in the postwar period" (p. 64). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A WPA choral group in New Mexico, 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: String players in a WPA recreation program in Wisconsin, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: Women gather together to sing, in a WPA recreation program in Baltimore, Maryland, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: The description for this photograph reads, "WPA sewing project workers... singing hymns and folk songs. The young men just dropped in and joined in when they heard the singing." This photo was taken on Crusoe Island, North Carolina, ca. 1935-1943, and provided courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A 1939 WPA poster, showing a female flutist and promoting an upcoming WPA concert sponsored by the Hamilton Mothersingers. In 1940, the Mothersingers were described as a "permanent organization of those mothers who like to continue their own musical activities with the advantage of professional direction while their children are in school, and even after they are beyond school age" ("Mothersingers to Meet," The Cincinnati Enquirer, September 15, 1940). Some Mothersinger groups are still active today, and one group's historian & librarian explains their origins, suggesting a more wide-ranging purpose to the groups: "During the Great Depression, when morale was very low, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor had an idea. He suggested that all Parent Teacher Associations in elementary schools across the country form Mothersingers and Fathersingers groups to help demonstrate musical harmony to the children. As an added bonus, it would help lift everyone's spirit at the same time" ("Mothersingers keep tradition going," This Week (Columbus, Ohio), May 17, 2016). So it seems that Mothersinger groups were multifaceted - intended to teach, lift the spirits of a depressed nation, and also provide venues for musically-talented, but busy moms. (It's unclear whether any Fathersinger groups still exist, but articles about them can be found in newspaper archives.) Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Above: The description for this 1942 photograph reads, "This young lady is training to work on the assembly line of one of our great war plants. In preparation for this task, she devotes six nights a week to a WPA vocational training school where experienced instructors show her the technique of modern welding." Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
In 1946, the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43 explained that "The rapid expansion of war industries and the growing demands of the armed forces for manpower were responsible... for increased employment opportunities for women... Many women working on WPA projects were by aptitude, previous work experience, and WPA project experience, qualified for certain types of industrial jobs, such as assembly work. In order to hasten [their] placement... in industrial defense jobs, many were shifted by the WPA from service projects into training projects. Women who had been employed on sewing projects were taught to operate small bench machines. Others were trained as light aircraft riveters; welders; lathe, drill press, and milling machine operators; tool grinders; solderers; molders; machine tool inspectors. Some were instructed in electrical assembly, motor testing and repair, and blueprint reading. On August 18, 1942, more than 8,200 women were employed on WPA training projects" (p. 92).
Above: The description for this 1943 photograph reads, "Jeffersontown, Kentucky. The Jefferson County community cannery, started by the WPA (Work Projects Administration), now conducted by the state vocational education department. Women pay three cents each for cans and two cents per can for use of the pressure cooker. Canning beans and greens raised in a victory garden [see next image]." Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Above: The description for this WPA poster, created between 1941 and 1943, reads, "Poster for the U.S. Department of Agriculture promoting victory gardens, showing carrots, lettuce, corn, tomatoes, and potatoes growing." According to an article on the History Channel, "Throughout both world wars, the Victory Garden campaign served as a successful means of boosting morale, expressing patriotism, safeguarding against food shortages on the home front, and easing the burden on the commercial farmers working arduously to feed troops and civilians overseas. In 1942, roughly 15 million families planted victory gardens; by 1944, an estimated 20 million victory gardens produced roughly 8 million tons of food - which was the equivalent of more than 40 percent of all the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States" ("America's Patriotic Victory Gardens," May 29, 2014). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Above: A 1941 WPA poster. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Above: WPA nurses heading out for a day's work in New Orleans, 1936. The WPA preserved skills and hope for hundreds of thousands of unemployed women across America. We'll probably never know for sure how many of these WPA women ended up serving in World War II--either in the military or in the defense industries--but we do know that about 350,000 American women served in the Marines, Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Women's Auxiliary Corps, in the WASPS (women pilots), and in the WAVES (women who volunteered for a variety of military support roles). Their work covered just about every non-direct combat job you can think of, including, of course, medical care. (See, e.g., "Women in the Military - WWII: Overview," Minnesota History Center, and "WAVES," Encyclopedia Britannica). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A 1952 postage stamp. The experience of World War II established, more than ever before, the essential role of women in national defense. And the WPA's faith in the ability of women-in-need to contribute to the nation's common good--through public works and defense training--played a key role in this national enlightenment. A researcher wrote in 1943: "To WPA officials their success in devising projects peculiarly adapted to the abilities of women has been a source of great satisfaction. Achievements in this area doubtless surpass any results previously realized in a vast public employment program and are attributable in large measure to the fact that federal, regional, state, and local WPA staffs have, from the beginning, included specialized officers designated to plan projects and to see that women's interests were properly safeguarded. [These projects included] health projects, education, recreational leadership, library extension work, research, laboratory and clerical work, art, music, cooking, and other professional and service projects..." (Donald S. Howard, The WPA and Federal Relief Policy, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1943, p. 281). Image scanned from personal collection.
Thursday, March 8, 2018
Above: WPA workers codifying birth certificates in Charleston, South Carolina, 1936. This type of work became especially important during the war years. For example, "WPA workers gave assistance to registrars of vital statistics in order to speed the handling of requests concerning the birth records of defense industry workers" (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943--hereafter FR-WPA--p. 67. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A WPA health records / vital statistics project in Bismarck, North Dakota, 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A WPA public records project at a courthouse in Green Bay, Wisconsin, ca. 1935-1943. The FR-WPA noted: "In the field of public administration, WPA project workers assisted State and local governments in the installation of modern assessment systems, the revision of land records, the indexing of deeds and mortgages, the transfer of property tax accounts from alphabetical listings to individual ledger cards... the inventorying of publicly owned personal property... the classifying of fingerprint files, the codifying of municipal ordinances..." (p. 66). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: WPA clerical workers transcribing data from a WPA climatology project in the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, Ohio, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A WPA worker organizes hospital records in Indiana, ca. 1935-1943. Clerical & record work is not glamorous, and usually not appreciated either. There is no bridge, road, or dam left as a testament to the work. But a society cannot function efficiently (or at all) without good record-keeping. Imagine paying your taxes, or satisfying a fine, and then those records being lost. Imagine going to a doctor after a surgery, and he/she says, "I never received your records, the hospital can't find them. I have no idea what kind of therapy or medicine you should be receiving." Imagine buying property, going to the courthouse to verify your property lines, and being told, "We have no record of your property. Are you sure you it's there?" Records are the oil that keeps society running. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Above: A WPA nurse puts fresh bandages on a patient in Michigan, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A WPA nurse in Kentucky draws a blood sample, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: WPA chemists analyzing blood samples in New Orleans, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: The description for this WPA photograph reads, "Louisiana - Public Health nurse calls at the home of this convalescent woman. Daily care is given to sick adults until they are able to care for themselves." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: WPA workers in Louisville, Kentucky, preparing mailing kits for syphilis testing, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: The description for this 1936 photograph reads, "Longview Hospital for the Insane, Cincinnati, Ohio. A creative art class which endeavors to teach the inmates of this institution coordination between mind and muscles. The majority of these girls were unable to even draw a line when they first entered the class. Except for WPA this sort of work would probably never have been done. Specially trained WPA teachers are assisting in this work." Note that the description contains some terminology that, today, we might consider politically incorrect - "Hospital for the Insane," "inmates." But perhaps the work of the WPA contributed to our current, more enlightened terminology and understanding of what the mentally ill can do when given special education, attention, and therapy. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A WPA nurse arrives at a nursery school in Georgia for a routine check-up on the children, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
For our health and well-being, a New Deal or sociopathy?
The New Deal was a renaissance in public health. More nurses, more hospitals, more clinics, more check-ups, more immunizations, more health education, and more research. But for decades now, the political right has been working very hard to undo all that. Monsters like Seema Verma, the current head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are trying to scale back health funding for lower-income Americans in order to ensure tax cuts for the rich.
Verma is promoting, among other things, work requirements for many people on Medicaid, essentially holding back health care for ransom - "You either work, or you don't get your medicine!" (see, e.g., "'Needless and Ideologically-Driven Cruelty': Arkansas to Become First State to Implement Trump's Assault on Medicaid," Common Dreams, March 5, 2018). The problem with this strategy, in addition to its immorality, is that the poor face all sorts of problems when it comes to work or job training - for example, transportation problems in rural areas. Rich sociopaths like Verma, and her boss, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, don't understand these types of problems because (a) they've never had to deal with it themselves or (b) it's been so long since they have, that they've forgotten what it's like.
"63% of Americans don't have enough savings to cover a $500 emergency," like a car repair. What does a person do, for example, if they must work or attend job training to receive healthcare and the transmission in their car goes up - typically a $2,000-$3,000 repair? Under the demented philosophy of sociopaths Verma and Azar, as well as most of the political right, that person must not only deal with the stress of an unaffordable car repair, but also the potential loss of his/her healthcare and/or medicine. What kind of a person would put poor people into a situation like that? Answer: A person who views the poor as little more than vermin - to be brought under heel, or eliminated.
We can either have another public health renaissance, like the New Deal, or we can have bloodthirsty sociopaths like Verma and Azar in charge of our health - people who despise the poor, and probably wish most of them would just go away and die and stop interfering with tax cuts for the rich. Unfortunately, America has chosen sociopaths over a New Deal. And that's probably because, as Dr. Sophia McClennen of Penn State University has recently pointed out, we've developed into a nation of ignoramuses (I would modify that with an adjective - "cold-blooded ignoramuses").
Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich recently lamented the death of the common good and said, "This is not a society. It's not even a civilization, because there's no civility at its core." He's right. We are not a civilization. We are a sociopathy held together by law enforcement and the ever-present threats of incarceration, poverty, ridicule, and homelessness. Through the teachings of Ayn Rand, millions have been brainwashed into thinking that we should despise one another, and that persecution and misery will lift up the poor - or kill them, if need be. Yes, the teachings of Christ, which were so dear to President Franklin Roosevelt, have been flushed down the toilet by the political right - and then gleefully replaced with Rand's malevolence.
FDR, Frances Perkins, Harry Hopkins, and other New Dealers must be rolling in their graves. They set us on the path to right but we chose evil instead. It can be no surprise then, that suicides are rising and our life expectancy is dropping.
Above: In this video clip, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explains the political right's devotion to Ayn Rand's sociopathy - and how Rand's sick & demented philosophy has decimated our culture. YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kr41QDei3TI.
Sunday, March 4, 2018
Remembering the WPA during Women's History Month: They found, organized, recorded, preserved, and displayed our history
Above: Dr. Dorothy Cross and Dr. Eugene Golomshtok on a WPA-funded archaeological dig in Trenton, New Jersey, ca. 1935-1943. Cross was a professor at Hunter College in New York and a leading archaeologist from the 1930s through the 1960s. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: These WPA workers are cleaning artifacts and bones from an archaeological site in Alabama, in preparation for public display, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: Before the WPA came along, many historic records were disorganized or in a state of obscurity. The WPA's Historic Records Survey sought to find and inventory the nation's voluminous historic information. The WPA worker in the photo above is examining historic records in Baltimore, Maryland, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: Another interesting WPA project was the Index of American Design: "a series of portfolios of faithful drawings, in color, illustrating the rise and development of the decorative and applied arts in this country, from earliest colonial times to the end of the nineteenth century. Through educational institutions, these drawing were made available to students, artists, and industrial designers" (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 64). Above we see Mrs. Sterilling, a WPA artist, sketching a Duncan Phyfe Table in Washington, DC, ca. 1935-1939. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: "WPA workers indexing and preserving census records" in New York City, 1936. Genealogists frequently highlight the value of WPA-preserved & generated records in family history research today (see, e.g., Paula Stuart-Warren, "Good Works: WPA Projects: Shhh! We're letting you in on one of genealogy's best-kept secrets: the resources of the WPA's Historical Records Survey," Family Tree Magazine, April 1, 2005. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: The description for this 1936 photograph reads, "Vera Achen, WPA artist, preparing a school diorama case showing George Washington and his first cabinet in the Federal Bldg. at New York. Part of the State Visual Education Program." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A WPA artist working on a plaster relief for a natural history museum in Minnesota, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
"[T]here has been a neglect of historical landmarks and historical records. Much material of historic significance has been lost and more doomed to disappear as modern modes replace the old ways of living. As an insurance against future loss and destruction, the Federal Government, through the Works Progress Administration, is giving work to the unemployed throughout the country on a number of projects designed particularly for the preservation of valuable historical treasures."
--Ellen Woodward, director of the WPA's Women's and Professional Division, "Allies in Aims: The Story of what America is doing to Preserve its Historical Heritage," National Historical Magazine, Daughters of the American Revolution, December 1937, pp. 1079-1080.