Friday, June 4, 2010

WPA Projects

Works Progress (Project) Administration

YouTube: WPA

In catching up with my back logged reading I landed on the a Tangled Tree post entitled WPA – Documenting the home of Reuben Nance, 11 April 2010 which used the Works Project Administration of Virginia Historical Inventory (WPA).

What wonderful resource for researchers! T. Casteel of Tangled Trees reminds us of this gem tucked away at the State and Federal level. Across the country The WPA Historical Records Survey collected indexes of historical records. These included indexes of everything from cemeteries to music periodicals.

What was the WPA?

The Works Progress Administration was ordered as part of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 (April). It was designed to generate public jobs for the unemployed of which more than 3.4 million people were hired by 1936. Although this relief effort was more costly, with a price tag up to $11 billion, than a direct relief payment, the idea of the bill was “Give a man a dole, and you save his body and destr9oy his spirit. Give him a job and you save both body and spirit.” [Harry Lloyd Hopkins]

WPA was renamed the Works Projects Administration in 1939. By 1941, the war efforts absorbed many of the American workers; and by June of 1943, WPA was no longer needed.

Although most states historical collections and archives holds the WPA inventories and collections, there are also the records held at the National Archives. The National Archives houses the Records of the Work Projects Administration (WPA) in Record Group (RG) 69.

Records within the NARA range from the more commonly known Division of Engineering and Construction (RG 69.4.4) to the less referenced records of the Art Music, Theater and Writers Projects beginning with RG 69.5.2. to RG 69.5.5.

State Records and Inventories
WPA Workers Protest 

Many states have created their own historical inventory, as that referenced in the Tangled Tree post. It appears that T. Casteel used the Library of Virginia – Virginia Historical Inventory to locate information on her Nance ancestry.

In Missouri, a similar collection may be found within the Western Historical Manuscript Collection – Columbia: US Works Project Administration, Historical Records Survey, Missouri 1935 – 1942.  This collection, part of the Federal Writers Project of the WPA, holds 817 rolls of microfilm, and can be viewed in Columbia, or at the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC) campus.

Other States
Like Virginia and Missouri, every state or region has records of their WPA inventories, indices, and collections. Most locations of these records can be found by using a simple internet search.

Accurate, Accessible Answers


  1. Kathleen - Thank you very much for the kind words. You have a great description of the WPA....maybe we need something like that again :-)
    The links didn't work though.