Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal Programs for the Employment of Americans during the Great Depression

The Great Depression actually begins in October-November 1929 when the Stock Market plummeted and the run on the banks took off. It lasted, for all practical purposes until the United States re-tooled and re-booted its factories and businesses to support the war effort for World War II.

What I find interesting is the same, the very same, arguments were made against persons receiving aid  then as now–including all Americans in the work projects so they could receive economic help from the Federal Government. One such group were artists who made their living from their art—they had to prove they were professional artists and pass a needs test to qualify.

In the first few months of 1934, the Public Works of Arts Project, “hired 3,749 artists and produced 15,663 paintings, murals, prints, crafts, and sculptures for government buildings and yards throughout the U.S,” written by Jerry Adler, a Newsweek editor, in his article, “1934: The Art of the New Deal,” The Smithsonian Magazine (June 2009). Adler overviews this massive art program, describing other writers who have studied aspects of these projects and listing the books generated by their studies. Some $1,184,000.00 was paid to the artists—including multiple commissions to some artists. “Life in America” was the unofficial theme of these works—perhaps you have spotted their work in post offices, courthouses, and even National Parks.

See also: The Living New Deal, Department of Geography, 505 McCone Hall, University of California, Berkeley CA 94720 (510-642-5987). This website includes maps and a comprehensive list of sites where the murals are painted. They publish a newsletter and ask for donations as well as information on sites they may have overlooked.

Did your ancestors receive federal aid for art works during the Great Depression? If you haven’t looked, you may never know. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS Perhaps the biggest gap in our knowledge of your ancestors is the 20th century! Many family histories left off after the turn of the century, and the rights of privacy covered (and still do) over half of the century. The WPA projects; fill in some of these gaps with considerable factual information and a lot of fun!

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