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The New Deal Era: Documents Available from the Boston Public Library: Works Progress Administration

This is a guide to New Deal agency publications digitized by the BPL.


The Works Progress Administration (later called the Works Projects Administration, WPA) was the largest New Deal agency and was designed to provide work to the unemployed. It was created in April 1935, when President Franklin Roosevelt realized that the Great Depression was not ending as quickly as everyone hoped it would. He had ended or was about to end the temporary federal aid and works projects (the Federal Emergency Relief Administration [FERA] and the Civil Works Administration), yet people were still unemployed, hungry, and in need of help. The National Youth Administration, another part of the Works Progress Administration designed to help poor young people, was created in June 1935.

The WPA was one part of the federal government's attempts to more permanently help the unemployed and needy. The other part was the Social Security Act, signed in August 1935 by President Roosevelt, which set up a national program for old-age pensions, unemployment insurance, and aid to the disabled and dependent children.

The WPA's initial goal was to employ 3.5 million people. In the end, after eight years of existence, it had employed a total of 8.5 million people and spent about $10.5 billion. Its workers built or repaired roads, water and sewer systems, and schools and other public buildings, as well as sewing clothes for the needy, cooking lunches for schoolchildren, providing immunizations, teaching adult education classes, and compiling statistics on chronic diseases, housing, and unemployment. WPA workers constructed some of the most well-known and enduring landmarks in the country, such as the Cow Palace arena in San Francisco, La Guardia Airport in New York City, National Airport near Washington, D.C., and River Walk in San Antonio, Texas.

Read more of this article in Poverty and the Government in America: A Historical Encyclopedia available in the Credo Reference database. 


WPA Bulletin


Links to the digitized versions are provided in the catalog record.