Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve with WPA Vaudeville

A WPA poster, advertising a New Year's Eve WPA Vaudeville show in San Diego.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The New Deal Preserved Our History

In 1936, the Civilian Conservation Corps rebuilt the first Washington Monument, which is located in Washington Monument State Park, in Middletown, Maryland. The monument was first built in 1827 by the townspeople of Boonsboro, but suffered deterioration over time. Preserving & restoring our nation's history was just one of the many project-types carried out by New Deal work programs.

Today, our political leaders bicker over extending unemployment benefits, and the unemployed live in despair. During the New Deal era, political leaders provided meaningful work opportunities and the unemployed created things that we're still using & enjoying today. What an amazing difference in political philosophy & action.  

(Photo by Brent McKee)

Friday, December 28, 2012

New Deal Schools

New Deal agencies like the CWA, WPA, & PWA built, repaired, or improved thousands of schools during the Great Depression.  They improved our nation's educational capabilities, while providing a wealth jobs for contractors and unemployed Americans.

The school above is Beall High school (1940-2007) in Frostburg, Maryland. A PWA-funded project, the building served thousands of Maryland families for nearly 70 years before being (unfortunately) demolished.

Some people say that the New Deal was a complete failure. It's hard for me to understand that type of thinking, when we used (or are still using) thousands upon thousands of New Deal schools, parks, athletic fields, bridges, etc.

(Photo by the WPA--which played a role in the improvement of the surrounding grounds--and provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"Don't take away this WP and A"

"...the WPA came along and Roosevelt came to be a god. It was really great. You worked, you got a paycheck and you had some dignity. Even when a man raked leaves he got paid, he had some dignity. All the songs they used have about the WPA:

I went to the poll line and voted
And I know I voted the right way
So, I'm askin' you Mr. President
Don't take away this WP and A

They had lots of verses. We used to sing them:

Oh, I'm for you, Mr. President
I'm for you all the way
You can take away the alphabet
But don't take away this WPA

...There was some humanity then. We don't have humanity today."

--Sociologist Horace Cayton, from the book "Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression," by Studs Terkel, Random House, 1970.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Above is a WPA poster, advertising a WPA theatre production of "A Christmas Carol." Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

A White Christmas

(WPA workers shoveling snow in Baltimore in 1936. Photo by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)

Today, December 24, 2012, it is snowing in West Virginia (where I'm currently at), with about 4 inches of accumulation so far.  It will be a white Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Muddy Creek Falls

Muddy Creek Falls, at Swallow Falls State Park (Garrett County, Maryland). The CCC did extensive work at Swallow Falls State Park, helping to ensure that we can enjoy scenes like this year after year.

(Photo by Brent McKee)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The WPA & Santa

On December 14, 1940, the Associated Press reported that "...some 2,000,000 toys would distributed from (WPA) workshops to underprivileged children this Christmas. In nearly every large community...there are toy-making and repair projects."

(Baltimore Sun, Dec. 15, 1940, p. 11)

Friday, December 21, 2012

WPA on YouTube

This is a 10-minute presentation I made several months ago, highlighting the work of the WPA in Maryland from 1935-1943 (includes some nice music). Even if you're not a Marylander, this presentation will give you an idea of the types of WPA projects that occurred in your state. (The YouTube link for this presentation is

You can increase the resolution of the presentation with the "Change Quality" tool.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


"We need a new WPA, modeled after the WPA of the Great Depression, to put jobless Americans to work."

--Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, 2010

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Town Halls, Courtesy of the WPA

WPA workers helped build many town halls & community buildings across the nation. This one is in Williamsport, Maryland, and was constructed in 1939.

(Photos by Brent McKee)  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Increased wildfires? A new WPA & CCC could help with that!

On Monday, December 17, the following was reported: "Warmer and drier conditions in coming decades will likely cause the burned area from wildfires in the U.S. to double in size by 2050, according to new research based on satellite observations and computer modeling experiments." (See article here)

During the Great Depression, the unemployed helped fight & prevent wildfires. The CCC is especially remembered for its work in this area; and rightfully so, since the forests were the domain of the CCC boys. But the WPA also helped. For example, WPA workers created 6,337 miles of new firebreaks.

Since we have about 5 million Americans who are classified as long-term unemployed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and since we have millions of young adults who are neither in school nor working (according to a recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation), why not train & employ some of them to fight today's wildfires and prevent tomorrow's? Some could fight fires directly and some could work in support positions. Offering job opportunities to the jobless, and protecting our forests & parks from destruction, seems like a much more positive response to the problems of unemployment and wildfires than the endless political games & brinkmanship that occur in Congress today.

Our forests burn, while some of our political leaders are busy signing anti-tax pledges and casting laid-off Americans as lazy "moochers," "parasites," and "takers."'s pathetic.

(Image above is a WPA poster, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Monday, December 17, 2012

The unemployed helped the environment and business

WPA workers planting oyster shells in the Chesapeake Bay, off Crisfield, Maryand, in the Summer of 1936. Planting oyster shells is good for the environment--since oysters filter water--and also good for business, as many watermen count on oysters for income. Oh, and planting oysters is also good for people who like to eat oysters!

Was this a good project for unemployed people to work on? You be the judge.

(Photo by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Federal Theater!

During the Great Depression, unemployed actors and theater workers were given job opportunities in the WPA's theater program. The WPA performed thousands of plays across the country for millions of people. Local businesses benefited from the increased activity. Why don't we do this today?

(Photo provided courtesy of the Library of Congress)  

Throwing people away?

In my blog post yesterday, I questioned whether we have, as a culture, determined that some percentage of Americans are necessary casualties, i.e., throwaway people. People who we relegate to joblessness and poverty, so that the larger group can live comfortably. To put it another way, have we determined that there are not enough resources and jobs for everyone, so some sub-group of the population is simply going to have to live in misery.

Arthur Delaney, a Huffington Post journalist who regularly covers unemployment issues, wrote a piece yesterday--"Long-Term Unemployed Left Out of Recovery: Study"--detailing how there is probable hiring discrimination against the long-term unemployed (based on research, not just anecdotal evidence), how there are fewer and fewer long-term unemployed collecting unemployment benefits, and how extended unemployment benefits may not continue in the new year.

Question: If the long-term unemployed are discriminated against by private sector companies, and we are not going to create a WPA-type jobs program, and we are slowly but surely phasing out extended unemployment benefits, and we are cutting federal funding for job retraining programs (see, e.g., here), what is left for these people in terms of employment? Is it just "game over" for them, and we all throw up our hands and say, "oh well"?

Our fellow citizens need help. Why are we turning our backs on them?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Waste of Human Potential

Do we want this:

Or this:

On Wednesday, December 12, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated: "The conditions now prevailing in the job market represent an enormous waste of human and economic potential" (statement here).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment report for November, there are 4.8 million Americans who are "long-term unemployed." And according to a recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, there are about 6.5 million young adults who are not in school and not working (see article about report here).

Collectively, as a culture, have we decided that some percentage of our population consists of throwaway people? Have we decided that the idle youth and the long-term unemployed are necessary casualties, i.e., the price that has to be paid for the rest of us to have jobs? Or, after 4 years of economic doldrums, are we still waiting for the "job creators" to come to the rescue?

Some people say that the unemployed don't want jobs, that they're lazy and don't want to work. But when McDonald's had a big hiring event in the Spring of 2011, one million people applied (64,000 were hired, 936,000 were not; see article here). To my way of thinking, that's not a sign of laziness, but a sign that people are hungry for jobs, even low-paying McDonald's-type jobs.

To the people who say that the unemployed are lazy, I say: Let's put that theory to the test. Let's create a new WPA and a new CCC and see how many people sign up.

(First photo above shows unemployed men sleeping on grass in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1939, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. Second photo shows WPA workers building a school in Maryland during the Great Depression, photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives. One criticism of the New Deal work programs was that they did not employ enough people.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Inn at Cacapon

This Inn, at Cacapon State Park (near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia) was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps--as was the park itself. Today, the "Ol' Inn" can be used for things such as business meetings and family reunions, proving (yet again) that we are still benefiting from yesteryear's government investment and the great work of the unemployed.

Why aren't we doing similar things today, given that about 6.5 million young adults are neither in school nor working (see here)? Isn't creating useful public works better than idleness?

(Photo by Brent McKee)  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Good Eatin'--WPA Style

Did you know that the WPA served over 1.2 billion school lunches, had a food program for low-income kids during the summer, and helped set school lunch standards in many areas of the country?

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A CCC Forest

Green Ridge State Forest, Allegany County, Maryland. Developed with major assistance from the Civilian Conservation Corps. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

(Photo by Brent McKee)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Skiing, WPA style

WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

During the course of its life, the WPA created 310 miles of new ski trails, and constructed 65 new ski jumps.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Op-ed: Useful work is better than a dole

In his famous 1936 speech at Madison Square Garden, FDR said: "Of course we will provide useful work for the needy unemployed, because we prefer useful work to the pauperism of a dole."

This sentiment is echoed by Stephen Seufert in a recent op-ed on, where he makes the very interesting and compelling argument that a new WPA would more adequately fulfill the general welfare clause of the Constitution than continued extensions of unemployment benefits. (See Mr. Seufert's op-ed here)

I agree with Mr. Seufert's assessment. I think unemployment benefits are good for a particular period of time (6 months? 9 months?) because it allows for an extensive amount of time for the laid-off worker to find a job appropriate to his/her skills & education. But, at some point, extended unemployment benefits cripple the jobless and--among the general population--raise doubts about the efficacy of such continued benefits. The jobless remain unemployed and hopeless (and it is likely that they are discriminated against because of their unemployed status, see an interesting study here), and America receives no work product for its investment.

And let's be clear. This is not about putting the jobless to work like indentured servants, but about providing meaningful work opportunities to those who want to work but are having serious problems finding employment after a significant, good faith, and verifiable job search. It's about compassion, it's about hope, and it's about creating useful public works (infrastructure, art, research, environmental & historic preservation, making clothes for the poor, etc.).  


What did the WPA mean to people?

" father immediately got employed in this WPA. This was a godsend. This was the greatest thing. It meant food, you know. Survival, just survival."

--Jane Yoder, a woman who dealt with hunger during the Great Depression, in Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, by Studs Terkel.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wasting America's Youth

According to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, "Nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young adults are neither in school nor working..." Further, "The report warns of a future of chronic unemployment due to a continuing failure to educate and train America's youth in needed skills...young people aged 16 to 24 are facing serious barriers to successful careers as youth unemployment has reached its highest level since World War II." (See article about report here)

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "I have moments of real terror, when I think we may be losing this generation. We have to bring these young people into the active life of the community and make them feel that they are necessary." (Quote found in the book, The African-American Experience in the Civilian Conservation Corps, by Olen Cole, Jr.)

During the Great Depression, America made a concerted effort to offer work and training opportunities to millions of young adults, via the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the National Youth Administration (NYA). For example, the photo above is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. The caption reads, "Learning to work a cutting machine, these two NYA employees receive training to fit them for important work, Corpus Christi,Texas. After eight weeks they will be eligible for civil service jobs at the Naval Air Base." And a Baltimore Sun article from 1940 reported that "2,687 (CCC) boys of 126 camps in area this year leave to accept private jobs." A CCC education officer said, "...we learn from reports from the field that the boys leaving us have demonstrated qualities of neatness, precision and willingness, plus a degree  of skill to give them an opportunity to learn a skilled trade." (Baltimore Sun, July 26, 1940, p. 11)

Like Eleanor Roosevelt, I think we should all have a moment of terror. Terror that we are not going to respond to the problem of high youth unemployment by offering large scale job and training opportunities, but instead by increasing our already world-leading incarceration rate; because when people do not have job and career opportunities--year after year after year--it is only a matter of time before some percentage of them resort to illegal means of obtaining income. Our own recent history proves this, as economically impoverished communities across America are stuck in a cycle of poverty, drugs, and prison.

Yesteryear, we had the CCC & NYA. Alumni of these programs have constantly expressed the positive & life-transforming effect of their time & involvement in these programs. Today, we have a piece-meal approach to the problem (which is obviously not working for the great bulk of young Americans), as well as an anti-government ideology from the political right, that will not even allow a CCC-type program for unemployed veterans (see here for example). If we do not change our current policies and philosophy soon, we are going to pay a terrible price; even more of a terrible price than we are already paying for ignoring previous generations of youth.            

Monday, December 3, 2012

Golden Threads

"Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins believed that people given a job to do would do it well, and the fact that their paychecks were issued by the government would make not a whit of difference. They were right. The workers of the WPA shone. They excelled. They created works that even without restoration have lasted more than seventy years and still stand strong, art that is admired, research that is relied upon, infrastructure that endures...These ordinary men and women proved to be extraordinary beyond all expectation. They were golden threads woven into the national fabric. In this they shamed the political philosophy that discounted their value and rewarded the one that placed its faith in them."

--Nick Taylor, "American-Made," New York: Bantam Books, 2008 (p. 530, 2009 paperback edition).

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas Countdown

25 days until Christmas!

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Something good out of something bad

"Every time I go over to central park, I walk into the Children's Zoo. This was built during the Depression by WPA workers. It's an absolutely lovely place. I go into the park often. And I cannot help remembering--look, this came out of the Depression. Because men were out of work, because they were given a way to earn money, good things were created."

--Herman Shumlin, Broadway Producer & Director, from the book Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The WPA & American Education

(A WPA art class, at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Exact date unknown)

A recent Huffington Post article reports, "The United States places 17th (out of 40) in the developed world for education, according to a global report by the education firm Pearson."

During the New Deal era, the WPA built & repaired schools, hired unemployed teachers, and offered a multitude of educational and training classes to children and adults.

Like our infrastructure, our educational system is sagging. Meanwhile, we have about 5 million citizens who are described by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as long-term unemployed. Some of these unemployed citizens could be hired as teachers in a public works program. Others could benefit from the free classes and training that such a public works program would provide. But we're not going to do this. Why?

(Photo by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tolliver Falls

Tolliver Falls in Swallow Falls State Park (Garrett County, Maryland). Swallow Falls State Park--in my opinion--is one of the most beautiful state parks in the country. It is one of hundreds that the CCC helped create.

(Photo by Brent McKee)  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

WPA wartime posters

The WPA made many interesting posters to promote the war effort. This one was made between 1941 and 1943.

(Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The New Deal uncovers the past

Here's a recent blog post (from someone who is researching archaeology in the United States during the New Deal era) about CCC- and WPA-assisted archaeology in Maryland:

Friday, November 23, 2012

American Infrastructure

Above: WPA workers building a bridge in Harford County, Maryland, in June of 1936.

According to this article/op-ed, the World Economic Forum recently lowered America's infrastructure ranking from 8th to 25th in the world, and the American Society of Civil Engineers gives a D+ letter grade to our infrastructure. And, according to this article, "Wild weather is taking a toll on roads, airports, railways and transit systems across the country."

During the Great Depression, the services of contractors and the unemployed were utilized to modernize American infrastructure. The PWA funded colossal structures like the Hoover Dam, the CCC developed state and national parks for eager tourists and vacationers, the WPA performed enough roadwork to circle the Earth 26 times, and other work projects were carried out by agencies like the CWA, NYA, and U.S. Treasury.

Today, we seem to have a more lackadaisical attitude about our deteriorating infrastructure, and there seems to be more calls from our political leaders to drug test the unemployed than to give them meaningful & important work opportunities.


(Photo by the WPA, courtesy of the University of College Park Maryland Archives)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Workers at a WPA food distribution project. This picture reminds me of when I was handing out turkeys to families in need, shortly before Thanksgiving 2003, while in Americorps.

(Photo by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jobs, not drug tests

WPA workers made thousands of sidewalks across the nation. Today, some politicians want to drug test the unemployed. During the Great Depression, they wanted to give them jobs.  

(Photo by the WPA, courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)

Monday, November 19, 2012

WPA Theater Productions

Another neat WPA poster. This one advertises for one of the many theater plays produced by the WPA. Instead of breadlines, unemployed actors had opportunities to work and to entertain.    

(Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

New Germany & Savage River

The CCC helped develop New Germany State Park and Savage River State Forest in Maryland.  Their work included fire prevention, tree planting, construction of a new dam, ski trails, roads, and many structures (see here for more information).  Today, the park and forest offer an array of recreational opportunities.

(Photo by Brent McKee)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Alf Landon and the New Deal

The following was an exchange between Studs Terkel and Alf Landon, many years after Landon ran against FDR in 1936 as the Republican candidate:

Terkel: "Do you feel the New Deal saved our society?"

Landon: "By and large? (Pause.) Yes."

(From the book "Hard Times: An Oral History of Great Depression," by Studs Terkel.  New York: Random House, 1970 (p. 336 of New Press paperback edition, 2000))

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Our infrastructure, and our unemployed, wasting away

(WPA workers installing a water line, near Annapolis, Maryland, in April of 1938. Photo by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives).

On November 12, 2012, the following was reported in the Baltimore Sun:

"For the second time in six days, Baltimore's aging water system ruptured, affecting service to dozens of businesses and homes downtown and in Essex, including two hospitals, while snarling traffic and providing yet another unpleasant reminder of the regions crumbling infrastructure." (Mary Gale Hare, City's infrastructure problems continue with two water main breaks Monday: Fractures join list of several this month in Baltimore City, Baltimore Sun, November 12, 2012,,0,2213225.story, accessed November 14, 2012)

During the New Deal, via the WPA, America offered work opportunities to the unemployed, and the unemployed embraced those opportunities.  Among their many accomplishments, WPA workers installed 124 miles of new water lines in Maryland, and 16,121 miles of new water lines across the country. (Statistics from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, p. 136. Federal Works Agency, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946)

According to the latest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 5 million Americans who are considered long-term unemployed. (, accessed November 14, 2012).

Our infrastructure deteriorates, our unemployed lose hope, and year after year we refuse to connect the dots. Why?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Herrington Manor State Park

The beach, lake, and dam at Herrington Manor State Park in Garrett County, Maryland.

When I visited the park, there was a sign on one of the outdoor bulletin boards that read: "Building Herrington Manor Lake: The Herrington Manor Dam was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1934 and 1942. Two hundred young men between the ages of 18 to 25 worked for $30 a month--and were very glad to have the work. Families were limited to one person per family working for the CCC. During the period the CCCs also constructed the lake Concession Building, ten of the rental cabins at Herrington Manor, and the pavilions at Herrington Manor and Swallow Falls State Parks. In addition, they planted trees to reforest the area."

(Photo by Brent McKee)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Let's remember our veterans--those who served and those who died.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Coopers Rock State Forest

(Scenic overlook at Coopers Rock State Forest, photo by Brent McKee)

The CCC did extensive work at Coopers Rock State Forest, near Morgantown, West Virginia.  A plaque at the park reads: "In recognition of their historic significance, the Coopers Rock facilities, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps 1936-1942, have been placed in the National Register of Historic Places, by the U.S. Department of the Interior."  (Plaque created by the Coopers Rock Foundation)

Coopers Rock is just one of the hundreds of parks that the CCC helped develop in America.

Friday, November 9, 2012

300 Million Dollars of New Deal

The Tygart Dam, near Grafton, West Virginia.

According to the West Virginia Department of Commerce: "Construction of Tygart Dam started in 1935 and was completed in 1938.  It was one of the first Public Works Administration (PWA) projects initiated to reduce unemployment through the construction of massive, labor intensive projects.  Veterans, as well as men from (local) counties were given employment preference...Tygart Dam is currently operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The dam overlook area is open to the public from sunrise to sunset and free public tours are available Fridays in June, July & August" (, accessed November 9, 2012).

The cost to construct the dam was about $18 million, or about $300 million in today's dollars (, accessed November 9, 2012)

Photo by Brent McKee. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Forging Ahead

One of my favorite WPA posters.  (Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sissy Spacek and the WPA

In The Waltons television series, in the episode "The Odyssey" (1973), actress Sissy Spacek plays the character Sarah Jane Simmons.  John Boy, in attempt to find some peace and quiet, happens upon Sarah Jane in an abandoned cabin.  The following exchange occurs:

John Boy (upon learning of Sarah Jane's pregnancy): "Where's your husband?"

Sarah Jane: "Oh, he's in Norfolk.  See, he got laid off from his job, so he went to go look for work in a WPA project..."

I always find it interesting when the WPA is mentioned in popular media.  Here, the WPA is portrayed as a safety net.  When someone was laid off, the WPA offered the possibility of re-employment.  It was an agency that offered some hope.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The WPA paints a boat!

The WPA is primarily remembered for its construction of roads, bridges, buildings, etc.  But the variety of the work they performed is actually much greater.  Here, WPA workers are seen painting a municipal icebreaker (probably in Baltimore).

(Photo taken by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A new WPA and CCC could help with future disasters

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

In an article on the Huffington Post today, Staten Island residents claim that Hurricane Sandy relief efforts have been insufficient: "Official help has arrived in the last couple of days, but many residents say it's not enough and poorly organized" (click here for full article).

There are certainly many good and competent professionals who respond to natural disasters.  Victims of Hurricane Sandy would be in a much more horrific situation without them.  But could it be that manpower levels are simply inadequate for these larger types of natural disasters?

The WPA and CCC responded to many natural disasters during the New Deal era. Officials frequently complimented these agencies for the swiftness of their response.

According to the latest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are still about 5 million Americans who are considered "long-term unemployed." Natural disasters, however frequent and whatever their cause, will continue to harm the nation.  Why not connect the dots?  Why not supplement our current volume of rescue workers with newly trained rescue workers from the ranks of the long-term unemployed?  They could fill support roles, or serve directly on the front lines, responding to wild fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, etc.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Let's remember the Civil Works Administration

(Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Harry Hopkins wrote: "Long after the workers of CWA are dead and gone and these hard times forgotten, their effort will be remembered by permanent useful works in every county of every state. People will ride over bridges they made, travel on their highways, attend schools they built, navigate waterways they improved, do their public business in courthouses and state capitols which workers from CWA rescued from disrepair. Constantly expanded and diversified to offer use for the special skills and training of different types of workers, the CWA program finally extended its scope to almost every kind of community activity. We had two hundred thousand CWA projects." (In "Spending to Save," p. 120, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1936)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Flood walls, courtesy of the unemployed

The unemployed built flood walls across the nation to help protect cities & towns from loss of life & property.  This flood wall was constructed in Midland, Maryland, in 1937.

(Photo taken by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The WPA cleans up after a flood

WPA workers cleaning up debris in Cumberland, Maryland, after the St. Patrick's Day Flood of 1936.  The WPA--as well as other New Deal agencies--responded to a multitude of natural disasters across America.

(Photo taken by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No WPA to help clean up after Hurricane Sandy

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

(Interview plays after short advertisement)

On NBC Nightly News, on Tuesday, October 30, 2012, in a flooded underground train station, anchor Brian Williams was shown interviewing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Williams states (30 seconds into the video): "So, let's talk infrastructure governor. Short of a WPA, short of a Rooseveltian undertaking to rebuild our cities, how do we rebuild our cities, because we can't have this?"

The rest of the interview highlights the notion that natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy, are likely to become more frequent due to climate change. It seems to me that now is a great time to institute a new and permanent WPA to help prepare for natural disasters, help clean up after natural disasters, and help those affected by natural disasters...just like the old WPA did. Why not give the long-term unemployed meaningful and important work opportunities in this age of job outsourcing and high un- and under-employment?

Happy Halloween

A WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

1938 New England Hurricane

Interesting 11-minute video of the WPA responding to a powerful hurricane in New England in 1938.  Video produced by the WPA, provided courtesy of the Internet Archive.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Different Times, Same Cruelty

Here's an observation from the Great Depression that reminds me of today's cruelty towards the unemployed:

"The very employers who had thought highly enough of workers to use their services for four, eight, twelve or sixteen years, now began to talk of them openly as lazy fellows or spongers, willing to accept the taxpayers' money. The same persons who had once been moved to sympathy by the pitiful predicament of workers whom they had seen dislodged from regular jobs, now began to lump them all into a general category of the undeserving."

--Harry Hopkins, in "Spending to Save," p. 110, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., 1936.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Waltons and the New Deal

The TV show "The Waltons" had numerous references and set designs related to the New Deal. Here, we see a WPA sign as John Boy, Grandpa, and the Baldwin sisters walk to a movie theater.

(Image is from the episode "The Reunion," air date December 14, 1972, Warner Brothers Television, series created by Earl Hamner, Jr.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The New Deal In Color!

This picture is from the Great Depression Color Photograph collection at the Library of Congress ( The caption reads: "Oyida Peaks riveting as part of her NYA training to become a mechanic at the Naval Air Base, in the Assembly and Repair Department, Corpus Christi, Texas." The photo was taken by Howard R. Hollem in 1942.

Notice the National Youth Administration logo on Ms. Peaks' uniform (click on image to enlarge).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Big New Deal Buildings

The Hagerstown City Hall (Maryland)--one of the many monumental building projects funded by the Public Works Administration.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

An NYA Cabin

A cabin built by the National Youth Administration, in 1936, in Federalsburg, Maryland.

(Photo by Brent McKee. Information from a report on file at the Maryland Historical Trust)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Need a culvert put in or fixed? The WPA did that.

The WPA put in (or improved) 1,178,933 culverts. Were these projects boondoggles, or were they useful projects to help prevent roads from getting washed out?

(Photo taken by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives. Statistic from the "Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43," p. 135)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fire Towers

The CCC built many fire towers across the nation to help protect our forests. This one is at Lost River State Park in West Virginia.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Great Depression's Silver Lining

"If the depression that began in 1929 can be compared with a dark cloud, then the work done under WPA is its silver lining. For the major projects undertaken in Maryland and other States have been of a kind to be of lasting value to the communities involved."

--Francis H. Dryden, Maryland WPA Administrator (and later, acting national administrator). Quote found in the Baltimore Sun, March 26, 1939, p. 14.

Monday, October 15, 2012

New Deal Signs

(Image courtesy of WP Clip Art)

Across the country, the WPA erected 937,282 traffic signs. (From the "Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43," p. 131)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The New Deal Made Us Healthier!

(WPA Poster)

New Deal agencies built hospitals, gave immunizations, performed dental work for children, offered health care training, and more. The New Deal was instrumental in helping America become a healthier nation.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Post Office Mural: Oakland, Maryland

According to the New Deal Art Registry, this mural--in the Oakland (Maryland) Post Office--was commissioned by the U.S. Treasury in 1942, and painted by Robert F. Gates. It is titled "Buckwheat Harvest."

(Image used for educational, non-commercial, and non-profit making purposes.  Copyright, United States Postal Service.  All rights reserved)  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

CCC camps for young women?

The CCC was created for young men in their late teens and early twenties (with some exceptions made for older men). But if a new CCC were ever created, it would certainly be open to young women, and perhaps there would also be some co-ed camps. This is hardly surprising, given America's cultural changes over the last 80 years.

But it might surprise some people to learn that female CCC camps were frequently contemplated during the New Deal. These hoped-for camps came to be known as "She-She-She" camps. Unfortunately, the CCC was disbanded before such camps could be realized.

(Information found in "The WPA and Federal Relief Policy," by Donald S. Howard, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1943, p. 282 (in footnote).

Monday, October 8, 2012

Historic Preservation Corps

The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, in Colorado, has a Historic Preservation Corps program that "provides employment opportunities for local young adults in a crew-based format...members train and work under the supervision of a HPC crew leader and a local contractor, learning valuable construction and historic preservation techniques while completing priority projects." (Click here)

If a new WPA were ever created, historic preservation projects could make up a good chunk of the work projects. People of all ages could teach history, restore old buildings, perform & transcribe oral histories, write histories for small towns, and so on.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

FDR Quote

Someone sent me this FDR quote:

"No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order....I stand or fall by my refusal to accept as a necessary condition of our future a permanent army of unemployed. On the contrary, we must make it a national principle that we will not tolerate a large army of unemployed and that we will arrange our national economy to end our present unemployment as soon as we can and then to take wise measures against its return."


Saturday, October 6, 2012

October is a good month to read

One of the hundreds of cool posters created by WPA artists. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.