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The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work

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If you’ve traveled the nation’s highways, flown into New York’s LaGuardia Airport, strolled San Antonio’s River Walk, or seen the Pacific Ocean from the Beach Chalet in San Francisco, you have experienced some part of the legacy of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)—one of the enduring cornerstones of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

When President Roosevelt took the oath of office in March 1933, he was facing a devastated nation. Four years into the Great Depression, a staggering 13 million American workers were jobless and many millions more of their family members were equally in need. Desperation ruled the land.

What people wanted were jobs, not handouts: the pride of earning a paycheck; and in 1935, after a variety of temporary relief measures, a permanent nationwide jobs program was created. This was the Works Progress Administration, and it would forever change the physical landscape and the social policies of the United States.

The WPA lasted for eight years, spent $11 billion, employed 8½ million men and women, and gave the country not only a renewed spirit but a fresh face. Under its colorful head, Harry Hopkins, the agency’s remarkable accomplishment was to combine the urgency of putting people back to work with its vision of physically rebuilding America. Its workers laid roads, erected dams, bridges, tunnels, and airports. They stocked rivers, made toys, sewed clothes, served millions of hot school lunches. When disasters struck, they were there by the thousands to rescue the stranded. And all across the country the WPA’s arts programs performed concerts, staged plays, painted murals, delighted children with circuses, created invaluable guidebooks. Even today, more than sixty years after the WPA ceased to exist, there is almost no area in America that does not bear some visible mark of its presence.

Politically controversial, the WPA was staffed by passionate believers and hated by conservatives; its critics called its projects make-work and wags said it stood for We Piddle Around. The contrary was true. We have only to look about us today to discover its lasting presence.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter One

The End of Jobs

In 1932, the United States faced the greatest crisis in its history short of war. The American industrial powerhouse that had emerged at the end of the Great War in Europe had fallen still. The stillness had progressed from the stock market, which had lost almost 90 percent of its value since the awful crash of October 1929, to the nation’s factories, and from the factories to city avenues, small-town streets, and out across the countryside, where it reached farmers who were mired in a crisis of their own, caused by debt and drought. Workers from every walk of life were idle, one-quarter of the workforce—13 million men and women, though some estimates ranged to 15 million and above. As their resources dwindled, they descended a spiral from belt-tightening to despair to destitution. Millions lost their homes, wore their clothes into rags, and had to forage like animals for food: city dwellers fought for scraps in garbage cans and dumps, while in the country, the hungry scratched for roots and weeds.

For all of the physical suffering, the greatest loss was to the spirit. People felt fear, shame, despair; the suicide rate soared, and the nation trembled at the prospect of a dark, uncertain future. The optimism that Americans had distilled from the promise of the Constitution and learned to take as their birthright—their dreams—had disappeared with their access to work.

This did not have to happen. That it did was dictated by a revered American political philosophy that denied the central government a role in addressing social problems. In the so-called New Era, which began in 1921 and spanned the Republican presidencies of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and now Herbert Hoover, business interests effectively ran the country with some friendly advice from Washington, primarily in the form of useful information. The right data, gathered by the government, would allow banks to adjust their loan portfolios and manufacturers their production schedules, thereby achieving greater efficiencies than they had attained on their own. Labor was a commodity, like iron ore or cotton, to be purchased on the open market at the cheapest price. It was outlandish to think that employers would have any interest in their employees beyond their productive capacity, and even odder to think that the federal government would interfere by telling them how to treat their workers. As for human health and welfare, these were private matters. Society understood that there would always be a few unfortunates who could not—or chose not to—work and take care of themselves, and for these stragglers local governments and private charities were expected to lend a helping hand. It was certainly not Washington’s job to feed and clothe people or give them employment. The government had an interest in promoting social goals, since a healthy, well-fed, stable nation provided a good business climate, but that was all.

“The sole function of government,” Hoover had said in the fall of 1931, two years after the crash, “is to bring about a condition of affairs favorable to the beneficial development of private enterprise.” His predecessor, Coolidge, had put it more succinctly (a practice for which he was famous; his nickname was “Silent Cal”): “The chief business of the American people is business.”

But the New Era had failed, and Hoover’s efforts to revive it had been fruitless. Babe Ruth had put the president’s performance into harsh perspective. Early in 1930, the New York Yankees slugger was holding out for a contract that would pay him $80,000 a year. When sportswriters reminded him that the president made $75,000, Ruth responded, “What’s Hoover got to do with it? Besides, I had a better year than he did.”

And conditions were not improving. Businesses continued to fail at an unprecedented rate, more than 50,000 since the crash, and the pace of these failures was accelerating. By 1932, more than 3,600 banks had closed, robbing millions of depositors of their life’s savings. Every time a bank or business shut its doors, men and women lost their jobs and their buying power, which meant more business failures. As a result, industry was operating at a fraction of capacity, with production lines slowed or shut down entirely. In Birmingham, Alabama, 25,000 of the steel town’s 108,000 salaried workers had no jobs at all, and another 75,000 were working reduced hours, for an average pay of $1.50 a day. Thirty percent of workers were jobless in Detroit, 40 percent in Chicago, 50 percent across the state of Colorado. New York City had 800,000 workers without jobs. Skilled laborers in the construction industry—carpenters, plumbers, and electricians—saw their jobs disappear as new construction vanished. White-collar profes- sions were equally hard hit. Only half the nation’s engineers had work. With few new homes, or commercial or public buildings, to design, architects’ practices were decimated; only one in seven had jobs. Nationally, unemployment had doubled in a year.

After the prosperity of the late 1920s, the widening epidemic of joblessness sent shock waves through the nation. Before the crash, almost every non-farmer who could work and wanted a job had one. The unemployment rate in 1929 had been just 3.2 percent. Flush times had begun to seem permanent, a notion supported by the nation’s leaders. Hoover, accepting the Republican presidential nomination in June 1928, said, “Unemployment in the sense of distress is widely disappearing. . . . We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poorhouse is vanishing from among us.”

When it was jobs, not unemployment, that vanished, people found it impossible to believe at first. They never thought it could happen to them. Office workers who got pink slips went home and circled newspaper want ads at the kitchen table, then went out the next morning with the paper tucked under their arms, full of expectation, only to return at night disappointed. Factory men gathered day after day in union halls, in employment offices, and at the gates of the factories where they used to work. Bulletin boards bristled with “No Help Wanted” signs. Barkers bellowed “No jobs today, men” over bullhorns at the factory gates. Each day hope flaked away like layers of old paint. And when the reality that there were no jobs finally sank in, the job seekers continued to leave their homes each morning, but now sat on park benches and in the reading rooms of public libraries. They haunted the counters of cheap coffee shops and stood in sheltered doorways. Anything was better than returning home and admitting defeat to a wife whose eager hope shone on her face as she opened the door—and to children who sensed the desperation in their parents’ whispered conversations.

The hardships that followed came on slowly. Those who hadn’t lost their savings when a bank failed spent them down to nothing. Then they borrowed. They put off paying rent, bought on credit at the grocery store, skipped the installment payments on their furni- ture. When their credit was gone, they leaned on relatives and friends. When their clothes wore out, they darned and patched until the fabric couldn’t hold new thread. When the soles of their shoes wore through, they stuffed them with cotton, cardboard, or old newspapers. When they couldn’t pay for electricity or coal and suppliers cut them off, they huddled together in the dark and chased coal trucks down the street to pick up the odd lumps that fell onto the pavement. When they found the eviction notice nailed to their front door, they tore it down and hoped the sheriff would forget them.

Food was the last necessity to go. Parents skipped meals so their children could eat. Siblings ate on alternate days. Teachers watched skinny, ill-clothed, malnourished children nodding at their desks until the day came when they dropped out of school and vanished. Foster homes and orphanages swelled with youngsters whose parents could not afford to feed them, 20,000 in New York alone. At night people lurked behind restaurants and grocery stores waiting for the refuse cans to be set out, and fought others for the chance to claw through the garbage. They followed sanitation trucks to city dumps. They stared at the food displayed in grocery store and bakery windows and wished they had the nerve to hurl the brick that might let them satisfy their children’s hunger for a night.

By 1932, the situation of city dwellers had finally fallen to a par with the nation’s farmers, who for the past ten years had not been able to sell their crops and livestock for what these cost to grow. The farm troubles had started in the aftermath of the world war. Food from America had sustained Europe when its own farms were idled by the war, but once those farms regained their productivity America’s export markets disappeared, and suddenly its farmers were producing more food than the domestic market could absorb. Protective tariffs, which sheltered American manufacturers from inexpensive imports, had never been erected on behalf of farmers. While the nation’s overall economy recovered from the brief postwar depression of 1920–21, when manufacturing output fell 25 percent, the farmers never regained their buying power. Subsequent years of drought had made matters even worse. Eleven million farm families continued to live in unremitting poverty, and the banks’ hold on their mortgaged land grew ever tighter.

And no matter where they lived, those who had a roof at all were lucky, because the sheriff could not forget those struggling in arrears, even if he wanted to. When the eviction notice was hammered to the door a second and a third time, the dispossessed were likely to steal away in the middle of the night to find space where they could, sometimes in apartments where landlords who were also desperate were offering terms of free rent to fill their empty space, sometimes doubling up with the same relatives and friends they had already pressed for loans, sometimes even in their cars. But for many who lost their homes through eviction or foreclosure, including farmers who had been turned out or simply walked away from barren and unproductive land, there was no place to go. Following rumors or blind hope that jobs waited at the next crossroad or rail junction, thousands upon thousands became nomads. Old farm trucks driven by grim men plied the roads, overloaded with mattresses and furniture, pots and pans, suitcases and chests, wives and children and sometimes parents crowded together in the cab or huddled under canvas in the back. Others rode in—or under—empty freight cars or hitchhiked, wandering between hobo jungles where they might find a crude meal and temporary shelter. Most though not all of them were men. Women and even children were also on the roads and rails, their days spent in a twilight world of fear and want. The homeless numbered as many as 2 million. They collected in city doorways, in railway freight yards, under bridges. They lived in squalid migrant camps and shantytowns cobbled together from abandoned cars, discarded tarpaper, sheets of tin, scraps of wood.

Yet even the most impoverished families were slow to turn to charity. Americans’ deep-rooted belief in work came with a catch: failing to find it, it was not in their blood to ask for help. Campaigning in 1928, Hoover had extolled “the American system of rugged individualism,” a system, he said, that “has come nearer to the abolition of poverty, to the abolition of fear of want, than humanity has ever reached before.” But even when the system failed in 1929, bringing them face-to-face with poverty and want—and fear itself—Americans clung to its assumptions. If they couldn’t make their own way in the world, the fault must be with them.

“Oh, don’t bother,” a laid-off Texas teacher who had been forced to seek assistance told a social worker who was trying to cheer her up. “If, with all the advantages I’ve had, I can’t make a living, I’m just no good, I guess.”

The growing evidence of suffering brought no change in the philosophy that ruled government and business. The United States clung to a tradition of poor laws that harked back 350 years to Elizabethan England. The burden of caring for the poor fell on local governments and private charities. In recent years a few state governments, led by New York, had set up formal systems to administer what was called “relief,” as in relief of want by way of cash payments, vouchers for necessities such as food and rent, and—where work could be created—paying jobs. But Washington remained aloof. Business and banking interests insisted on maintaining this alignment of responsibilities, which had been in place under the Republican administrations that with few exceptions had been in power since the Civil War. When the United States Chamber of Commerce polled its members in December 1931, they responded 2,534 to 197 that “needed relief should be provided through private contributions and by state and local governments.”

But these governments were now as broke as the people who needed their help, and as the depression deepened they were unequal to the task. City tax collections had shrunk with the contraction of the economy. Many local governments were on the verge of bankruptcy. Charitable donations had also shriveled, and with them the ability to provide relief to families in need.

Those charged with the burden of the poor sought solutions with growing desperation. Winslow Township, New Jersey, an area of small farm communities with about 5,000 people, mirrored the country as a whole. One worker in five was out of work. On January 2, 1932, the eight members of the Winslow Township Committee convened in Blue Anchor, a crossroads halfway between Philadelphia and then-sleepy Atlantic City. The committee voted to dismiss the five-member police force it no longer could afford to pay. Then, led by its aptly named chairman, Herman Priestley, the committee called for a week of prayer to ask God’s help in solving the township’s unemployment crisis.

Prayer was all many jobless Americans had left in 1932.

From the Hardcover edition.
Nick Taylor|Author Q&A

About Nick Taylor

Nick Taylor - American-Made

Photo © Manny Millan

Nick Taylor is the author of seven nonfiction books and collaborated with John Glenn on his memoir. He lives in New York City.

Author Q&A

A Q&A with author Nick Taylor on his new book, American-Made

What were the most unexpected things you discovered during the seven years it took you to write this book?

One thing that really surprised me was how closely the politics of the 1930s and the politics of today resemble one another. The arguments and philosophies of the right and left have barely changed at all. Then, as now, one side insisted that the government can do nothing right and should have a limited role in American life, particularly where business is concerned, while the other saw the government as a way of solving problems the private sector would not or could not solve. I think the WPA demonstrated that government could be put to a good use, and all we have to do is look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to see what happens when the government neglects roles that only it can fill.

I was also surprised by the extent to which the WPA formed the foundations of the modern welfare system. This is the flip side of the coin. The WPA aided families with dependent children, but nobody imagined the extent to which that aid would create ongoing dependency in the system that was finally overturned in the 1990s.

Those of us who love books are particularly intrigued by the Federal Writers Project. In fact the WPA’s devotion to arts programs is notable. Why do you think this was made a priority?

Harry Hopkins saw no point in putting jobless writers, actors, artists and musicians to work building roads and bridges. He saw in them an opportunity to expand America’s cultural frontiers. They had to eat, he said, “just like other people,” thus he created programs in the arts and teaching. These entertained and educated millions, and left a cultural legacy that is among the WPA’s biggest and finest contributions to our history.

Early reviews have called American-Made a “near-definitive account” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) and “eloquent and balanced” (Publishers Weekly, starred review). How do you craft a balanced presentation about a controversial program?

By not ignoring the controversy. History shouldn’t be written by ideologues. I thought it was important to chronicle the many achievements of the WPA, but not to overlook its shortcomings or those of the Roosevelt Administration. I had to try to understand where the WPA’s critics were coming from, what motivated their criticism. Sometimes they had a good point. But I also think the evidence is clear that overall, the WPA made a resoundingly positive contribution to our country that remains with us today.

Should today’s state and federal government officials look to the WPA for lessons about how to address today’s problems?

Yes and no. The strongest lesson the WPA has for today’s officials is that investments in people are likely to pay off, and that government is not — and should not be depicted as — the enemy. Government is essentially a humanitarian exercise. People across the political spectrum should recognize where and how to use it to those ends, as the WPA was used during the depth of the depression. Our political life could also use some of the imagination and verve and straight talk the WPA displayed.

Such a huge government-run jobs program, however, is a different story. A lot of things need doing in our country, but unemployment (as I write this, at any rate) is a small fraction of what it was when the WPA existed. The U.S. government became the employer of last resort because we were in a dire emergency. God forbid we should face such an emergency again.

This year is the 75th anniversary of the New Deal. What can “everyday” people do to mark the event? How about school teachers?

The New Deal was all about “everyday” people, and I believe the way we should remember it is by demanding a government that is intelligently humanitarian in addressing the problems faced by the middle class, a government of deeds, not words. School teachers, I think, can remind pupils that the Great Depression was not only a time of economic hardship but a time of great accomplishment, as we can see by looking at the amazing legacy of the WPA.

From the Hardcover edition.

Praise | Awards


“A must-read for history buffs and government wonks.... Taylor is at his best in describing the different projects and the lives of the people who worked on them. “—USA Today

“Brisk…. Taylor's American-Made is bigger than its title suggests; he provides a succinct survey of the Great Depression and particularly its consequences for workers…. he interweaves personal stories with explanations of policy.”—Washington Post Book World

“Vividly rendered—a near-definitive account of one of the most massive government interventions into domestic affairs on American history…. The book is filled with plucky, fast-talking characters who by dint of charm and grit pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to participate.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Eloquent and balanced…. A splendid appreciation of the WPA.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A paean to the WPA ... balanced and engaging.”—Boston Globe

"An immensely detailed book telling the epic story of an equally immense agency, American-Made does an incomparable job of chronicling an important chapter in American history, one which many of us only know from the classroom and some of us know all too well."—New Hampshire Business Review

“A quick read … engagingly written…. There is something here for everyone to learn.”—San Francisco Chronicle

"Well-written and helpfully structured.... Taylor intersperses individual stories to give body to stark statisticsan admiring, as well as admirable, history of FDR's main job-creation program."—Chicago Sun-Times

"A lively 'people's history' of the WPA."—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Vastly informative, popular history at its finest…. A straightforward, relentlessly chronological, clearly written account.”—Dallas Morning News

"Chock-full of facts.... Taylor captures the drama and idealism of the program's early years."—Time Out New York

“[Taylor] has produced what is likely the most complete account yet of the much-written-about agency, just in time for the 75th anniversary of the New Deal.”—Milwaukee Express

"A lively and uplifting look at hard times—and a government program that worked."—Arizona Republic

American-Made might be one of the most empathetic stories ever told…. It also is among the greatest.”—Miami Sun Post

“Pertinent and timely…. Filled with both insight and wisdom. It is highly readable, absolutely terrific and highly recommended.”—Tucson Citizen

“Brilliant. American-Made…is the story of how American energy, administration, and improvisation coalesced in one of the country’s finest hours.” —California Literary Review

“The WPA…returned to the nation what FDR called ‘the joy and moral stimulation of work.’ Taylor’s book is both a paean to American resourcefulness and a staunch defense of the New Deal.” —New Yorker


WINNER 2008 The Washington Post "Best Books"
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


A Reader’s & Teacher's Guide to
AMERICAN-MADE: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation Back to Work
By Nick Taylor

In his 2008 book, American-Made, Nick Taylor chronicles the history of the Works Progress Administration from its establishment in 1935 to its cancellation in 1943. Although this is the story of one of the most important achievements of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, American-Made also gives us a broader perspective on the Great Depression. Taylor’s book begins in a “country that was on its knees” (4) in the years following the collapse of the stock market in October 1929, highlights the personalities and the policies of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, and then goes on to prove the author’s point — that the WPA was “an extraordinary bet on ordinary people” (4) which brought out the best in Americans and proved without question that the millions of WPA workers, led by Harry Hopkins, “fulfilled the founding vision of a government by and for its people, all its people.” (530)

Taylor begins his narrative by referencing a passing New York Times “obituary” dated July 1, 1943, the date on which the WPA “sank virtually unnoticed,”(2) no longer deemed necessary since the fight against fascist aggression had stimulated the American economy and ended the scourge of unemployment. Taylor argues passionately that the WPA deserves far more than this passing mention. Indeed the story of the WPA demonstrates over and over again that “ordinary men” and women were indeed extraordinary beyond all expectations. The workers of the WPA “clothed the threadbare, fed the hungry, taught the illiterate, [and] inoculated the vulnerable.” (530) They built LaGuardia Airport in New York, National Airport in Washington, DC, San Antonio’s River Walk, and the Cow Palace in San Francisco. The accomplishments of the WPA went far beyond buildings. WPA workers delivered library books to remote areas, aided victims of natural disasters, wrote travel guides, took iconic photographs, and preserved the arts in a time when they were most threatened. Yet, unfortunately, most Americans know little about the WPA.

The accomplishments of the WPA were not achieved without struggle and controversy. Vociferous critics accused it and its director, Harry Hopkins, of various sins, including misuse of public funds, inefficiency, and harboring communists. Demagogues such as Huey P. Long of Louisiana and Father Charles Coughlin of Michigan sought to undermine the efforts of FDR and his associates. Taylor addresses both the achievements of and the challenges faced by the WPA, its leaders, and its workers. He does this with extensive documentation and views the era not just through the lenses of the powerful but also through the words and reflections of ordinary Americans. All of this is written with the hope that as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the WPA, Americans will be reintroduced to this extraordinary effort and its lasting impact.


The American-Made Teacher's Guide is available as a pdf download. Please click on the "PDF" link below to download your complimentary copy.

A Reader’s & Teacher's Guide to
AMERICAN-MADE: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation Back to Work
By Nick Taylor

In his 2008 book, American-Made, Nick Taylor chronicles the history of the Works Progress Administration from its establishment in 1935 to its cancellation in 1943. Although this is the story of one of the most important achievements of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, American-Made also gives us a broader perspective on the Great Depression. Taylor’s book begins in a “country that was on its knees” (4) in the years following the collapse of the stock market in October 1929, highlights the personalities and the policies of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, and then goes on to prove the author’s point — that the WPA was “an extraordinary bet on ordinary people” (4) which brought out the best in Americans and proved without question that the millions of WPA workers, led by Harry Hopkins, “fulfilled the founding vision of a government by and for its people, all its people.” (530)

Taylor begins his narrative by referencing a passing New York Times “obituary” dated July 1, 1943, the date on which the WPA “sank virtually unnoticed,”(2) no longer deemed necessary since the fight against fascist aggression had stimulated the American economy and ended the scourge of unemployment. Taylor argues passionately that the WPA deserves far more than this passing mention. Indeed the story of the WPA demonstrates over and over again that “ordinary men” and women were indeed extraordinary beyond all expectations. The workers of the WPA “clothed the threadbare, fed the hungry, taught the illiterate, [and] inoculated the vulnerable.” (530) They built LaGuardia Airport in New York, National Airport in Washington, DC, San Antonio’s River Walk, and the Cow Palace in San Francisco. The accomplishments of the WPA went far beyond buildings. WPA workers delivered library books to remote areas, aided victims of natural disasters, wrote travel guides, took iconic photographs, and preserved the arts in a time when they were most threatened. Yet, unfortunately, most Americans know little about the WPA.

The accomplishments of the WPA were not achieved without struggle and controversy. Vociferous critics accused it and its director, Harry Hopkins, of various sins, including misuse of public funds, inefficiency, and harboring communists. Demagogues such as Huey P. Long of Louisiana and Father Charles Coughlin of Michigan sought to undermine the efforts of FDR and his associates. Taylor addresses both the achievements of and the challenges faced by the WPA, its leaders, and its workers. He does this with extensive documentation and views the era not just through the lenses of the powerful but also through the words and reflections of ordinary Americans. All of this is written with the hope that as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the WPA, Americans will be reintroduced to this extraordinary effort and its lasting impact.

Taylor’s engaging narrative will appeal to many readers: educators, lovers of history, and all who are intrigued by this American saga of struggle, determination, and controversy. This guide is designed to assist the reader in examining the text and moving beyond it. It is organized to parallel Taylor’s structure — in nine parts, moving from the 1920s into the 1940s. Each section of the guide will summarize content, pose questions for consideration, provide suggestions for classroom use, and, by moving beyond the text, establish connections to both past and present.

Additionally, several themes resonate throughout Taylor’s book and deserve close examination. These themes include
•the “proper” role of government, including the tension between federal and state government and between the public and the private spheres, the notion of the “welfare state,” and the role of the government in promoting the arts

•the responsibilities and challenges of leadership

•the nature of change: liberals and conservatives

•confrontation and dissent

•the power of personal narrative

Hopefully, American-Made and this guide will help bring the Works Progress Administration alive for readers, and we will come to better appreciate the lasting legacy given to us by the men and women put to work by the WPA.

“The cure for unemployment is to find jobs.” Herbert Hoover, December 5, 1929

Part I provides the background to the Great Depression and details the tremendous suffering of the 1930s. It examines Herbert Hoover’s commitment to “the American system of rugged individualism,” (12) and the limited response of the government to Americans’ needs. Statistics on joblessness abound, coupled with poignant personal anecdotes. Taylor investigates the impact of the Great Depression in both rural and urban America and ties despair to the growing agitation, from organized labor, communists and socialists, as well as “spontaneous, home-grown anger” (43) that erupted throughout the nation. Part I concludes with a detailed description of the Bonus Army, the emergence on the national scene of Franklin Roosevelt, and his election in 1932.

Questions to Consider
•Taylor notes that, “The optimism that Americans had distilled from the promise of the Constitution and learned to take as their birthright … had disappeared.” (7) What was this optimism and in what way was it fostered by the Constitution? Do Americans still have this optimism?
•How did Hoover’s reliance on personal initiative and private action reflect the ethos of the 1920s?
•Is there a conflict between Hoover’s belief, as a Quaker, in social responsibility and his lack of action to address the problems of the depression? Explain.

Highlighting the Themes

•Taylor notes that the United States has long had a “revered American political philosophy that denied the central government a role in addressing social problems.” (8) Trace the development of this philosophy and give examples of its implementation.
•Hoover believed that, “The sole function of government is to bring about a condition of affairs favorable to the beneficial development of private enterprise.’” (8) How was that belief reflected in Hoover’s approach to addressing the problems of the Great Depression?
•Taylor introduces the notion of a safety net provided by the federal government. How far should the government go in providing this net?
•As Franklin Roosevelt ascended onto the national stage, he projected an image “based less on what he said than on how he said it.” (72) How was he able to do this? Why did Roosevelt not offer many specific details of his plan to end the depression?
•What forms did dissent take in the early years of the Depression? Why had the left been marginalized in the United States? Did dissent from both the right and the left threaten the fabric of American life during the Depression?
•How does John Glenn’s story add to the understanding of what life was like in the 1930’s? What makes personal narrative effective?

Tips for Teachers
•Ask students to examine Supreme Court cases that illustrate the conflict over the role and responsibility of government. Include Lochner v New York, Muller v. Oregon, and Hammer v. Degenhart.
•Have your students, individually and then in groups, generate a list of the characteristics of an effective leader. As your class studies various leaders, evaluate their leadership based on these criteria.
•Introduce students to Depression era music. Compare two famous songs of the Depression era—“ Brother, Can You…” and “Happy Days are Here Again.” Account for the very different message in these songs.

Beyond the Text: Making Connections
•Frederick Winslow Taylor gave his name to a philosophy and method of production applauded by big business in the 1920s. In what ways did Hoover’s actions during the Depression reflect his belief in “Taylorism?”
•Hoover famously asserted that “Nobody is actually starving.” (31) Ronald Reagan once noted that the homeless are “homeless, you might say, by choice.” Compare Hoover’s and Reagan’s views on how best to alleviate poverty.
•Every year the U.S. Supreme Court makes decisions that determine the proper scope of government. Investigate the cases on the current docket. Evaluate the Court’s decisions in these cases.

“Our greatest primary task is to put people to work.” Franklin Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

This section begins with the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt, his selection of a cabinet, and his first days in office. Roosevelt’s administration started out running. As Roosevelt proposed to Congress the programs that would come to be called the Hundred Days the government “was no longer sitting on its hands,”(92) Taylor introduces Harry Hopkins, the key figure in Roosevelt’s plan to get Americans working again. He describes Hopkins as an intriguing public servant with “a fiery passion for the rights of the poor to decent treatment” (95) and unswerving dedication to the creation of jobs. As Taylor notes, Hopkins’s “singular talent was for creating organizations on the fly.” (95) Hopkins had previously worked for private social service groups and directed the New York Temporary Relief Administration. He was appointed to lead the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and then, in 1935, was made the head of the newly established WPA. In only a few months with FERA, Hopkins distributed 51 million dollars in grants and matching funds, and in the process he encountered opposition from both the right and the left. Much of PART II comprises a detailed discussion of the programs of the Hundred Days, including the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the National Industrial Recovery Administration, and others.

Questions to Consider
•Hopkins disdained the paternalism of direct relief, which he regarded as demeaning to the unemployed worker and which he felt was always “given in a way to intensify his sense of shame.” (106) Why then, did it take so long for Roosevelt and the New Dealers to move away from direct relief and toward the creation of jobs as the touchstone of their program?
•Why did organized labor initially object to the Civilian Conservation Corps despite the fact that the CCC provided jobs?
•How did the backgrounds and personalities of Harold Ickes and Harry Hopkins shape their roles as New Dealers and contribute to the conflicts between them?
•In the 1930s African Americans in large part withdrew their allegiance to the Republican Party and became part of FDR’s constituency. Explain this in light of the failure of many New Deal programs to adequately address the needs of black Americans.

Highlighting the Themes
•As governor of New York, Roosevelt argued that, “One of these duties of the state is that of caring for those of its citizens who find themselves the victims of such adverse circumstance as makes them unable to obtain even the necessities for mere existence without the aid of others. To these unfortunate citizens aid must be extended by government not as a matter of charity but as a social duty.” (98) How would Herbert Hoover have responded to this statement? In what ways did the New Deal usher in changes in the role of government that are still being debated today?
•Who makes a more effective leader — the individual driven by a set of beliefs, i.e. an ideology, or the pragmatist who overlooks ideology in favor of experimentation?
•“Hoover sent the army, Roosevelt sent his wife.”(108) How does this observation from a returning Bonus Army marcher illustrate the deep differences between the two men? Why are symbolic gestures like those of Eleanor Roosevelt so important?
•The best known collection of personal narratives from the Depression is Studs Terkel’s Hard Times. In what ways are narratives like these effective?
•What accounted for the observation that, “We saw a little less of sorrow and discontent and a little more of happiness.”(122)

Tips for Teachers
•Have students develop criteria on which to evaluate the success of New Deal programs and enter their evaluations of several New Deal initiatives on a chart.
•Conduct a readers’ theater where students select one of the narratives in Hard Times and read it to the class. Follow with discussion.
•Assign an oral history project where students interview relatives or elderly members of the community who lived during the Depression.

Beyond the Text: Making Connections
•Examine the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt is generally viewed as being more pragmatic, while Wilson is thought to have been more wedded to his personal set of beliefs. Who was the more effective leader and why?
•Read some works by prominent social Darwinists of the late 19th century, such as Herbert Spencer or William Graham Sumner. How would these men have reacted to Franklin Roosevelt’s statements on the proper role of government?
•Consider the debate that occurred during the Clinton administration over reform of the welfare system. Examine the legislation that was passed in response to this debate.

“$3,187,000 Relief is Spent Teaching Jobless to Play: ‘Boon Doggles’ Made”
New York Times April 4, 1935

“They are damn good projects — excellent projects. Dumb people criticize something they do not understand.”
Harry Hopkins April 4, 1935

The year was 1935. Hopkins argued for an expanded jobs program that moved beyond FERA. Roosevelt’s programs were meeting increasing opposition from all sides. On the right were pro-business organizations like the American Liberty League and the National Association of Manufacturers. The New Deal was accused of creating boondoggles with programs such as eurthymic dancing. As Europe was moving toward World War II, the United States was witnessing the emergence of home grown demagogues, particularly Huey P. Long and Father Charles Coughlin. Each of these men appealed to fear and discontent as he promoted his populist vision for the nation. Each appealed to the poor, despite the fact that he had acquired significant personal wealth. Roosevelt and his New Dealers argued for a transition from relief to job creation in an attempt to create an army of workers. Roosevelt saw two of his key initiatives — the NIRA and the AAA - swept away by Supreme Court decisions. And in May, 1935, Harry Hopkins was appointed director of an expansive new program — the one that is the focus of this book — the Works Progress Administration.

Questions for Consideration
•One criteria for a WPA program was that it must be “useful.” Define useful. Determine which of the WPA programs were useful and which were not. Consider, for example, cage free habitats for monkeys, repair to the Statue of Liberty, installation of additional seats at the Louisiana State University stadium, and murals on hospital walls. These were just a few of the projects considered by the WPA.
•Was it really necessary for the government to establish another jobs program when it already had the CCC and the PWA? Why?
•In what ways did Roosevelt address the challenges posed by men like Francis Townsend, Father Charles Coughlin, and Huey P. Long?

Highlighting the Themes

•Examine the ways in which the Supreme Court influenced the New Deal. What message did the Court send about the role of government and the system of checks and balances?
•In his January 1935 state of the union address, Roosevelt asserted that long-term dependence on relief programs “induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.” (160) What had transpired that allowed FDR to make a substantive shift in his New Deal agenda? How did this statement pave the way for the WPA?
•Listen to a collection of Woody Guthrie songs. Carefully consider the lyrics and what they express about life during the Depression. One particularly poignant song is Guthrie’s Dear Mrs. Roosevelt, a letter to the first lady that tells us much about how she was viewed.

Tips for Teachers
•Show all or substantial segments of two PBS videos from the series The American Experience. The first is Huey Long and the second The Radio Priest. These chronicle the lives, times and actions of the most prominent American demagogues. While viewing these films, students should complete a chart comparing the two men in terms of their backgrounds, constituencies, methods, successes, and shortcomings. In an essay, students should respond to the following: “Who posed a greater threat to the American political, economic, and social fabric, Long or Coughlin? Support your answer with specific examples from the films.”
•Divide the class into several groups, assigning each group a segment of the population that was affected by Roosevelt’s New Deal: women, African Americans, organized labor, big business, and farmers. Prepare a presentation on the ways in which each group was affected by the depression and how its members reacted to the crises with which they were faced.
•Conduct a panel discussion on the best ways to bring the U.S. out of the depression. Members of the panel should include Harold Ickes, Harry Hopkins, Franklin Roosevelt, Huey P. Long, a member of the American Liberty League…
•Designate several students to read excerpts from some of FDR’s “fireside chats.” Examine both the tone and the message and discuss the impact these chats had on the American public. Ask students to write a contemporary “fireside chat,” as might be given by a current political figure.

Beyond the Text: Making Connections
•Discover more about Long and Coughlin, two dangerous yet fascinating figures in American history. What factors brought about their demise, and why were they so highly regarded by their followers?
American-Made presents Long and Coughlin as populists. What role have populists played in American politics, from William Jennings Bryan to Pat Buchanan?
•Examine in more depth women’s roles during the Great Depression. One prominent, but lesser known depression era woman was Ellen S. Woodward. Martha H. Swain’s biography, Ellen S. Woodward: New Deal Advocate for Women, published in 1995.
•The Depression witnessed considerable debate over the views of John Maynard Keynes and what came to be known as Keynesian economics. To what degree did FDR agree with Keynes’s ideas? Is Keynes relevant today?
•Taylor mentions the concept of “social gospel” with specific reference to Pope Leo XIII’s famous work, Rerum Novarum. (Primary source readers for European history often have excerpts from this work.) What is this “social gospel” and what conditions compelled Leo XIII to write it? Compare this vision of the social gospel with that promulgated in the U.S. in the late 19th century.

“Our responsibility for the immediate necessities of the unemployed has been met by the Congress through the most comprehensive work plan in the history of the nation.”
Franklin Roosevelt, Fireside Chat, April 28, 1935

This section begins with the assassination of Huey Long, whose death removed a significant obstacle to Roosevelt’s reelection. Roosevelt continued to introduce new programs in this, the Second New Deal. Taylor discusses the debate and passage of the Social Security Act and emphasizes that the WPA was the best hope for the near future. Despite its possibilities, the WPA engendered opposition, including some strikes and shutdowns, as some workers would be paid less than they were under FERA. The WPA’s first efforts were not without significant setbacks. A proposed canal through Florida was begun and scrapped, after 5 million dollars was spent on it. A system of dams was begun and halted in Maine. But before 1936 was over, the WPA employed workers in every county in the nation. Hopkins’ goal was to create jobs for all segments of the population. It seemed that he did. These workers responded to natural disasters, repaired toys for poor children during the Christmas season, rebound library books, recorded folk songs, and much, much more. The occasional boondoggle still occurred—building a lake in North Carolina without a source of water for it. But, by and large, WPA projects were done efficiently and “free of scandal.” (218)

Roosevelt’s New Deal suffered a casualty when the Supreme Court declared the AAA unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the WPA continued to expand, as 2.8 million workers were on WPA rolls in 1936. Taylor chronicles in substantial detail the exploits of the “pack-horse” librarians and their portable libraries. In 10 counties in eastern Kentucky, 107 of these librarians delivered 33,000 books and magazines to 57,000 families.

Questions to Consider

•Consider Ernie Pyle’s column detailing the image Hopkins presented. What did Pyle admire about Hopkins? Why are images so important in influencing one’s impression of powerful individuals? Contrast this very personal image with the criticism leveled at Hopkins and the WPA by Republican Robert Rutherford McCormick.
•How did the WPA attempt to alleviate the psychological impact of poverty by recognizing the importance of being “necessary?” As you read personal accounts of WPA workers, determine whether these workers felt necessary.
•Why did Al Smith, the Democratic candidate for president in 1928 support Alf Landon in his 1936 campaign against Roosevelt?

Highlighing the Themes

•Did the government’s use of public funds for valuable WPA projects make its support for “boondoggles” less troubling?
•In his speech at the Democratic convention in 1936, Roosevelt articulated his beliefs about government. He argued that, “Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omission of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference?” (229)
•How does Henry Moar’s account of the Christmas dinner at the Timberlake Lodge on Mt. Hood (238) demonstrate the power of personal narrative?

Tips for Teachers
•Ask students to analyze several depression era political cartoons. How do they compare to the famous political cartoons drawn by Thomas Nash in the late 19th century? Locate a number of recent political cartoons and compare to those of the late 19th century and the 1930’s.
•Divide students into groups of three or four. Have them do research and then develop a PowerPoint presentation in which they create a virtual tour of four or six WPA projects and/or sites. Groups can be assigned projects that fall into a certain category, such as road building or the arts, or students can be required to demonstrate knowledge of several different types of projects.
•Signs and slogans were used to promote the WPA and its projects. Have students select a WPA project and create a slogan and a poster to promote that project.
•In his 1936 nomination speech, Roosevelt pronounced, “To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” (229) Design an essay prompt requiring students to compare this assertion with similar statements made by John Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address.

Beyond the Text: Making Connections

•“Boondoggle,” used as both a noun and a verb, was popularized by WPA critics. Consider recent actions of governments in the United States — both federal and
local. What projects do you consider to be boondoggles? Examine the types of projects, often called “earmarks” in contemporary jargon, that are frequently contained in federal legislation.
•Roosevelt’s Social Security program was controversial in the 1930s; it remains a subject of much debate today. What difficulties face our Social Security system today, what caused them, and what solutions have been proposed?
•Investigate the role of the WPA in your area. Visit any existing sites and develop a program on WPA projects to deliver to groups in your community.
•Roosevelt and Hopkins aided rural residents in gaining access to library services. How are library services delivered to those residents in your area who have difficulty visiting your local library? How has technology expanded access to library services in your area? Has funding for libraries in your area been maintained in the recent years? Account for any changes in funding.
•Roosevelt was faced with continued pressure to address veterans’ concerns. Veterans’ issues are front page news today. What issues face veterans in your area? What are government and private agencies doing to address these issues?

“We don’t think a good musician should be asked to turn second-rate laborer.”
Aubrey Williams, WPA Deputy Administrator

One of the most unique aspects of the WPA was its creation of projects to foster the arts and to put writers, artists, musicians, and actors to work. Not only were these efforts destined to provide meaningful labor for these men and women, but they also reflected the view that a lively artistic and literary culture is good for the nation. It was not sufficient to confine the arts to major urban areas; indeed, the WPA was committed to “take the arts to the people.” (247) Taylor argues that this mission was “by most measures a complete success.” (247) The scope of Federal Project Number One, which included divisions in the theater, art, music and writing, was astounding, employing thousands of men and women. Projects included circuses for children, the New York Negro Theatre Unit, the Yiddish Theatre, the Living Newspaper, funds that paid immigrants to give new life to traditional arts such as tapestry, compilation of photographs and grassroots songs, travel guides, and much more. The WPA fostered the careers of many soon-to-be well known artists, actors, and literary figures. These included Orson Welles, Burt Lancaster, Sidney Lumet, Jackson Pollock, Grant Wood, and Gordon Parks.

Of course, controversy accompanied the WPA’s endorsement of the arts. Even determining pay scales for workers in the arts proved difficult. Many felt that it was not the government’s role to promote the arts; government money should go, the critics argued, to engineering projects instead. Artists and writers were regarded as too bohemian and too difficult to tame. The most ardent critics viewed those who produced literature, art, and drama as leaning much to far to the left; the WPA was even accused of being too soft on communism. But it was not solely ideology that brought about decreases in funds for Federal Project Number One. By 1936 the economic crisis in America was lessening. Roosevelt was pressured to call for less federal spending, and in July 1936, the WPA budget was slashed by 25% and the federal One budget by a third. Protests erupted, and even though the WPA would remain in existence for several more years, opposition to reform and to spending grew. Additionally, other projects grabbed the attention of the WPA, and as World War II loomed, the writing was on the wall.

Questions to Consider
•The first chapter of PART V is titled, “The Dilemma of Art and Politics.” What was that dilemma in the 1930’s and what is it today?
•Why does Taylor refer to theatres, concert halls, and museums as “temples?”
•In what ways did the artists’ demand for artistic freedom conflict with the use of public funds to finance their work? To what extent should public sensibilities dictate what writers and artists produce?
•Why was the Federal Writers’ Project most often targeted as leftist?
•Who determines what is “good” art?

Highlighting the Themes
•Federal and state agencies vied for control over the WPA’s artistic projects. Who “won” and why?
•Examine the role of politics in government sponsorship of the arts. What are the tensions between artistic freedom and government authority? Consider this response in a discussion among WPA officials: “Because the kids I want to reach in this plan are tomorrow’s voters.’” (269)
•What methods were implemented by those who opposed government funding of the arts? What methods were used by artists, writers, and other employees of Federal One when funds and jobs were cut?
•There are several compelling personal stories told in this section of the book. Pay particular attention to the stories of Dorothy Sherwood and Frank Goodman. How do these narratives depict the tragedy and the triumphs of the 1930s?

Tips for Teachers
•Commissioned by the Rockefellers to paint a mural in New York, the artist Diego Rivera angered his patrons by including a portrait of Lenin in his massive work. Help your students find out what happened in this controversy. Conduct a debate over just how this should have been resolved.
•Introduce your students to the Living Newspaper project. Have groups design and present their own Living Newspaper.
•The WPA frequently commissioned murals. Have your class create a mural reflecting your school community.
•Assign students to plan a family vacation using a WPA guidebook.

Beyond the Text: Making Connections
•Public funding of the arts remains a highly controversial issue. Examine the tensions that have surfaced in the past few decades over the efforts of the National Endowment for the Arts and programming decisions made by public television stations.
•Why was the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit a lightening rod for controversy over the role of the government in supporting the arts?
•Joseph McCarthy targeted writers, directors and actors in his Senate investigations into communism. Exactly whom did he target and why? What were the long-term effects of McCarthy’s attacks?
•Government supported and privately funded programs have helped preserve traditional arts throughout the United States. Investigate one of these projects.
•What is the state of arts education in the schools in your area? What has made maintenance of programs in art and music more difficult? What are some success stories? What efforts are being made to enhance arts education?
•Read Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here? Can it?
•How did paintings of artists like Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, and Grant Wood reflect the mood, the tensions, the despair, and the hopes of the 1930s?

“The WPA is proud that from the ranks of those who can’t find jobs it can provide the shock troops of disaster.”
WPA Newsreel Man Against the River

We come to the events of 1937. In the face of natural disasters, WPA workers were called upon to risk their lives to rescue victims of hurricanes and floods. Many WPA workers died in these attempts. WPA work rolls were down to 2.2 million from a 1936 peak of 3 million. But work on a variety of projects continued. Even golfer Bobby Jones was brought in to consult on the building of WPA funded golf courses. WPA labor worked on at least 600 municipal golf courses in 1937. FDR, frustrated that the Supreme Court had overturned two of his key initiatives, the AAA and the NIRA, proposed an ill-conceived plan to increase the number of members on the Supreme Court so that he could place friendlier justices on the Court. This plan soon died but took a bit of Roosevelt’s reputation with it. The Supreme Court did uphold the Wagner Act, the cornerstone of FDR’s effort to support organized labor. Roosevelt found himself increasingly caught between the pressure to decrease deficit spending and the desire to keep Americans working. Following the “Roosevelt recession” of 1937, Roosevelt renewed efforts to create jobs, although he was hindered by persistent opposition from business. Harry Hopkins had his own crises; his wife died and Hopkins was diagnosed with cancer, whereby he moved into the White House. In 1938, there was a resurgence of the WPA, now funding 3.3 million workers and standing by its policy of hiring without regard to workers’ political affiliation.

Questions to Consider
•Roosevelt attacked the Supreme Court for overstepping its role by engaging in policy making. That accusation is frequently leveled at the court system. How do you see the role of the Supreme Court, and do you think it is moving in the right direction?
•Were Roosevelt’s attacks on the “economic royalists” justified?
•Roosevelt claimed that the Fair Employment Standards Act was “the most far-reaching, most far-sighted program for the benefit of workers ever adopted here or in any other country.”(359) But did it impose unfair regulations on business? Why, despite Roosevelt’s successes did opposition to him continue to mount?

Highlighting the Themes
•Consider the labels that were placed on various groups and programs. How do these fall on the left-center-right continuum? Have the definitions of left-center-right changed in the years since the Great Depression? If so, in what ways?
•Yet another compelling personal story is that of Johnny Mills who built roads in North Carolina. How does his experience in the reflect the goals of the WPA?

Tips for Teachers
•Ask students to select one of the many natural disasters to which the WPA responded. Choose a more recent disaster faced by the federal government and compare the methods, accomplishments, and challenges faced by relief workers and agencies with the responses of the WPA to similar disasters.
•Using several pieces of butcher paper, affix a continuum, from left to right, on a wall of your classroom. Work with your students to ensure that they understand the meaning of left, center, and right. You might use this to discuss communism and fascism as well as the political divisions that dominate contemporary politics. On strips of paper, write the names of people, agencies, legislation, and groups referred to in American-Made and have students place these on the political continuum.

Beyond the Text: Making Connections
•Despite the passage of legislation such as the Wagner Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, organized labor continued to confront big business in the 1930s. Why did union activity increase during the 1930s? Analyze the impact of the formation of the CIO and the tensions between it and the AFL.

“… [A] government agency, supported by public funds, has become part and parcel of the Communist party.”
Rep. J. Parnell Thomas

1938 witnessed a degree of turbulence that cut to the heart of the Democratic Party and impelled Roosevelt to launch a battle for its soul.” (385) Southern Democrats produced a “Conservative Manifesto” that expressed, among other things, their fears that the New Deal would result in a “permanent welfare class.” (385) FDR lashed out against these
“Copperheads among us,”(385), but he also could not afford to lose southern Democratic support. This helped account for Roosevelt’s lack of adequate support for an anti-lynching bill despite a rash of lynchings. Attacks also came from the North, where the Chicago Tribune attacked the WPA as a “vampire political machine.” (388) The WPA was also accused of using politics to further its interests and of putting political pressure on employees. In the 1938 primaries, New Deal candidates eked out a slim victory, and Democrats maintained solid control of Congress despite some GOP gains.

It was clear that the beginning of the end of the New Deal had arrived. The public’s “taste for reform had soured, and the nation chose to catch its breath.” (391) A House committee investigating “Un-American activities” was revived, chaired by Rep. Martin Dies, Jr., D-Texas. In its investigations of communist activity, it did not take long for Dies’s committee to target the WPA, especially its literary and artistic projects. After all, in the politically charged climate of the day, even the Boy Scouts were accused of being “Communistic.” (396) As Taylor notes, one of the “singular moments in the theatrical history of the United States” (398) was the crisis over the theatrical production of The Cradle Will Rock. Additionally, a new WPA regulation mandated that only American citizens could work for the WPA. Painter Willem de Kooning, among others, was forced to resign. Even a work as seemingly uncontroversial as a WPA travel guide for Massachusetts came under attack for its treatment of the Sacco and Vanzetti case. Harry Hopkins, the guiding light of the WPA, resigned to become Secretary of Commerce, and the WPA was never the same.

Questions to Consider
•Taylor refers to “the ever present dilemma confronting publicly funded arts: the tension between creative freedom of expression and political sensibilities.” (397) In what ways was the WPA a victim of this dilemma? Was the WPA Theater Project complicit in its own demise?
•Taylor obviously has great admiration for Harry Hopkins. Do you share his admiration?

Highlighting the Themes
•How were demagogues able to manipulate those who had concerns about the work of the WPA?
•The on-going tensions in any society between liberty and security was played out in the conflict between the Federal Theatre Project and the Dies committee. Could these warring factions have come to some viable compromise? Did the attacks on suspected communists in the artistic community serve to keep the nation safer?

Tips for Teachers
•Assign groups of students to study artists who lived and worked during the Depression. Include Diego Rivera, Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Hopper, and Grant Wood. Students are to prepare a presentation for the class on these authors, their works, and how they reflected the trials and tensions of the 1930s.
•Conduct a simulation of a hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee as it conducts its investigation into communist influence in the arts. Include Martin Dies, Hallie Flanagan, and Orson Welles, as well as other participants.

Beyond the Text: Making Connections
•Investigate the debate over an anti-lynching bill that divided Americans in the first three decades of the 20th century. Account for Roosevelt’s position.
•Taylor argues that the struggle between FDR and Southern legislatures would “animate the political divide into the next century.”(387) What is this political divide, and how has it been reflected in contemporary politics? In what ways is the 2008 presidential campaign also animated by this divide?
•The New Deal was one of several reform movements that has changed the nation. Study the major reform movements Americans have witnessed: the reforms of the early-mid 19th century many of which were stimulated by the Second Great Awakening, populism and progressivism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the New Deal, and the Great Society of the 1960s. Compare these movements and account for their emergence at distinctive periods in American history.
•The WPA’s projects in the arts fell prey to an investigative committee. Several other investigative committees have been established in the past few decades. Assess their impact.

"In the years 1935 to 1939, when regular appropriations for the armed forces were so meager, it was the WPA workers who saved many Army posts and Naval stations from obsolescence."
The Army and Navy Register, May 16,1947

The essence of this chapter is the approach of World War II, the emergence of the nation from isolationism to involvement, and the efforts to increase military readiness. In the years between 1939, when World War II began in Europe, and 1943 when the WPA died a quiet death, unemployment plummeted, WPA work rolls experienced a parallel decrease, and existing WPA projects focused extensively on military related projects. Roosevelt recognized the necessity of moving away from neutrality. Shortly before he resigned his WPA position, Roosevelt’s friend, Harry Hopkins, called for an increased role for the WPA in national defense projects. Among the first of these projects was the rehabilitation of the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey.

Father Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh, and other supporters of Germany decried Roosevelt’s alignment with the British and French. Attacks on FDR and his wife multiplied. The WPA had experienced a resurgence in the wake of the Roosevelt recession, but its authority was limited by Congressional actions such as a ban on all political activity by WPA workers and by changes in the WPA wage structure. Roosevelt, to the surprise of some, decided to run for a third term and was reelected in November 1940. As war drew closer, the WPA became a “virtual adjunct” (492) of the military. Military projects expanded, although the WPA already had laid the groundwork for such efforts through its work on large projects such as building airports. As the nation moved toward war, the threat of the erosion of civil liberties increased. Roosevelt declared the United States the “arsenal of democracy,” and even the remaining WPA projects focused on the arts turned their attention to military related projects. By 1942, shortly after U.S. entry into World War II, the WPA rolls were down to 355,000, only 10% of what they had been only four years earlier. In December, 1942, FDR called for the elimination of the WPA, and it closed its doors the following spring. And on July 1, 1943 the WPA officially faded from existence. “The most extensive and equalitarian jobs program ever seen in a democracy” (520) was gone.

Questions to Consider
•What did the Washington Post view as “perhaps the most momentous utterance of his (FDR’s) career?” (452) Why was this so significant?
•What do you consider the most important achievements of the WPA?
•Had the WPA truly outlived its usefulness, or should a permanent jobs agency have been created to replace it?
•How did the attacks directed toward Eleanor Roosevelt reflect both racial prejudice and gender bias? What gains and setbacks did racial minorities and women experience in the 1930s?

Highlighting the Themes
•How did continuing economic instability and the coming of war work together to threaten civil liberties in the later years of the Depression?
•How did the experiences of Jimmy Bonanno illustrate the uncertainty of life in the 1930s?

Tips for Teachers
•Conduct a debate on the U.S. policy of isolation as World War II began in Europe?
•Discuss with students the U.S. selective service system created shortly before the US entered World War II. How did this draft differ from all others the nation had imposed? Divide students into four or eight groups. Each group is to create a poster supporting or opposing the draft — in 1940 and in 2008.
•Show students a copy of the painting Guernica. In their journals or notebooks ask them to respond to the images that Picasso painted in this work.
•Organize a seminar on the merits and criticisms of loyalty oaths, mandatory fingerprinting, and recitation of the pledge of allegiance.
•Organize students in groups of four. Assign each of the four group members one of FDR’s “four freedoms.” Each student should determine why Roosevelt selected that particular freedom and assess its importance during the 1930’s and into the present.

Beyond the Text: Making Connections
•Read Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, predicated on the election of Charles Lindbergh to the presidency.
•What constitutional restrictions are placed on the president’s ability to take the nation to war? Why did Congress find it necessary, through the 1973 War Powers Act, to further limit the president’s authority? Should there be further restrictions placed or more discretion given to the Commander-in-Chief when armed conflict is a likely?

Epilogue: The Legacy of the WPA
“I am sure that the accomplishments of the WPA will never be known by any one person. It has simply been too large in figures and volume and things done to get it all in one brief statement.”
Howard O. Hunter WPA commissioner, January 13, 1942

As the war ended, and life began to normalize, few Americans any longer thought about the WPA. The programs “were so familiar as to go unnoticed. Their ubiquity rendered them invisible.” (523) Taylor brings us back to the stories of many of those whose personal recollections were recorded in this book. We get to know a bit about them in the years after the war and the WPA ended. Harry Hopkins, ill for many of the last years of his life, died on January 29,1946 at age 55. Many WPA projects fell into disuse and disrepair.

However, in the late 1960s, many people began to revisit the WPA. Restoration projects at such WPA sites as the San Antonio River Walk and the Timberline Lodge in Oregon were begun. WPA travel guides were reissued. Art collectors and historians are still seeking the lost canvases done by WPA artists and later discarded.

The stunning legacy of the WPA will remain if we continue to learn about this unique initiative and pledge to pass to our children and grandchildren the knowledge and appreciation of what the millions of WPA workers did in their efforts to support their families but also to benefit the nation.

Nancy Schick
, a graduate of Michigan State and the University of Pittsburgh, taught history and mathematics in public schools for 38 years, including, most recently, 20 years at Los Alamos High School in New Mexico. She retired in 2006.

Co-author of the recently published AP U.S. History Teacher's Guide, she is a College Board "national leader" and consultant and has spent four years on the Advanced Placement United States History Development Committee. Schick has received three grants from National Endowment for the Humanities, served as the master teacher for a fourth NEH program, Worlds of the Renaissance, was a Fulbright-Hays fellow for summer study and travel in Thailand and Laos, studied in Cambridge, England through a grant from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and participated in a United States Institute of Peace summer program. She has been recognized five times by the White House as a Presidential Scholar Distinguished Teacher, named by her students who were Presidential Scholars as their most influential teacher. She was selected by the Gilder Lehrman Institute as the New Mexico United States History Teacher of the Year and was the 2005 New Mexico Teacher of the Year.

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