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Works Progress Administration


Chris Cote


Pioneers in the Valley enjoyed good times and bad times,much as people do in the seventies. The economy of the country affectsboth rich and poor. During the twenties, the country suffered a great depression.

Many people were unemployed. Over a million people werewandering the country in search of work or adventure. They knew they werenot heading anywhere, only trying to get away from where they had been before. In Minnesota, people had to sell their farms or else let their crops rot,because they too didn't have much money to pay anyone to come and help themon the farm.

We are like drowning men, grabbing at everything that floatsby trying to save what little we have, reported a North Carolinian. Fiftymen living in Chicago fought over a barrel of garbage that was set outsideby the door of a restaurant.

In Stockton, California, men searched the city dump tofind some food for their families. They retrieved half-rotted vegetables. People were so desperate they would even beg for food. The hobo's wouldgo from house to house begging for food. People would give the hobo's leftoversfrom supper. Can you imagine eating someone else's leftovers?

In 1932, seventy percent of the Minnesota iron range workerswere jobless. Farm prices dropped tremendously. Wheat production sankto low levels. The income of dairy farmers fell in 1931 to a fourth ofits level before the slump.

A Minneapolis company went bankrupt with close to $20,000,000of debts. The head of the organization went to prison.

In Logan, Iowa, five hundred farmers milling around thecourthouse prevented the sale of Earnest Ganzhorns farm in Wilmar, Minnesota. This man tilled his land for fifty-seven years.

Also, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, three hundred farmersforced the sale of John Hazel's farm for only $1.18 then turned around andleased the land back to him. Most of the farmers either went out picketingor else they went on strike. No one could get any help from the law.

Something had to be done. During this time, people hadto elect a well-adjusted president. In 1932, President Herbert Hoover wascriticized by the National Democratic party leaders because he was unableto balance the ticket for our country. During the bad times, we need aliberal nominee and Herbert Hoover was a conservative person. A good liberalnominee was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He ran against Herbert Hoover andhe was the president's seat.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt at this time was New York's governor. He created the first comprehensive system of unemployment relief, sponsoredan extensive program for industrial welfare and won western progressivesby expanding the work Al Smith began in conservation and public welfare. In St. Paul, he stressed the need for "imaginative and purposefulplanning."

People either loved him or hated him for his actions. President Roosevelt received many letters telling him what people likedor disliked about the New Deal or P.W.A.

Harold Ickes, as Secretary of the Interior, was responsiblefor P.W.A. (Progress Works Administration). P.W.A. was usually sponsoredby state or local agencies but paid chiefly by the federal government. The federal government helped over 8,500,000 individuals at a total costof 11 billion dollars. The average monthly wage which varied accordingto the skill and location was from $54.33 to $94.78. Many of the peoplegot jobs from P.W.A. P.W.A. was renamed in 1939, when it was placed underthe Federal Works Agency. It's now W.P.A.

Whenever possible a jobless man should be put in his ownline of work. W.P.A. recruited thousands of unemployed artists and assignedthem to projects paying up to $94.90 a month. Everyone was willing to workduring this time. Composers composed. A whole generation of painters andwriters had served apprenticeship on W.P.A. Under construction programs,roads, bridges, airports,l public utilities, and recreational facilitieswere built or renewed. The theater project developed striking, dramatictechniques. Musical groups have thousands of performances. Adult educationclasses were conducted. Women engaged in sewing, canning and gardening.

Some instances:

One writer made his bread and butter by taking a censusof dogs in California's Monterey Peninsula. The name of that writer andhis first major novel became household words. John Steinbach and The Grapesof Wrath.

In Kittson County, Mrs. Docken's foster mother, Mrs. Carlson,worked in W.P.A. in Hallock. She made clothes for the welfare. There wereabout nine other ladies beside Mrs. Carlson. then Mrs. Eugene Meyer, publisherof the Washington Post, one day made a statement on the typical businesscommunity: "If we do not get rid of W.P.A., then God help America."

I personally think that Mrs. Meyer didn't have any businesssaying what she did. It could have really been worse than what she said,even though it was definitely a bad time for the people.

World War II broke out. The war brought increasing employment. On June 30, 1943, the agency was terminated or ended.

I talked to a few people who had the experience of goingthrough this depression during the thirties. From almost all of what theysaid, the W.P.A. was an efficient project for many and from the books andresources that I have read they say the same thing. But some people turnedaway from this project. Some protested, went out on strike and even gotviolent. If things like that ever happens now, I would want this same programto help the people out. I don't think it will though.



Blegen, Theodore, Minnesota, North Central Publishing Company,St. Paul, MN

Docken, Mrs. Harriet, Northcote, MN, Interview, January21, 1974

Freidel, Frank, The New Deal, Prentice Hall, Inc. EnglewoodCliffs, N.J.

Hoyt, Edwin, Tempering Years, Charles Scribners and Sons,New York

Leuchenburg, William, Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal,Harper and Row

Works Progress Administration, Encyclopedia Americana,Vol. 25 p. 17, Vol. 29, p. 186. Americana Publishing Company

on, Encyclopedia Americana,Vol. 25 p. 17, Vol. 29, p. 186. Americana Publishing Company