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What is the Federal Writers Project?

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  • Written By: Emma G.
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 05 September 2018
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The Federal Writers Project was one of the New Deal programs created by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to help the US recover from the Great Depression. The goal of the project was to provide employment to blue collar workers while adding to the storehouse of American literature and knowledge. Many of the works and research created by the Federal Writers Project are on file at the Library of Congress and at the National Archives and Records Administration.

In the early 1930s, the economy of the world fell into the Great Depression. This severe economic decline lasted nearly a decade. In the United States, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) created a program called the New Deal to combat the effects of the depression and revive the US economy. Part of the new deal was a program called Federal Project Number One. This project, established in July 1935, supported history and the arts. It included the Historical Records Survey, the Federal Theater Project, and the Federal Writers Project.

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Workers under the Federal Writers Project compiled local and oral histories and wrote children's books, essays, and other literature. One of the best known of these projects is the American Guide Series. The series collected information about each of the current United States as well as Washington D.C., New York City, and other major cities. Each guide contained essays on the history and culture of the area, information on major cities and important sites, and suggested tour routes. Although they were put together by the Federal Writers Project, guides were printed by the states.

Some states printed only the minimum required by law. These states took issue with the guides because the oral histories included stories told by African Americans, including many who had been born into slavery. This desire to ignore the issue of race was not shared by all the states. Some even had racially integrated Federal Writers Project offices.

Over its lifetime, the Federal Writers Project employed about 6,600 writers, historians, and researchers, among others. Employees were mostly young, working-class people with little education. Many of them were women. They worked 20 to 30 hours per week and earned about $80 USD per month.

Federal sponsorship of the program ended in 1939. Individual states were allowed to continue funding the program until 1943. Much of the research, histories, and writing created during the project can be found online or through the Library of Congress. It is part of a collection called the United States Work Projects Administration: A Register of its Records in the Library of Congress.

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