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New Deal Programs: Selected Library of Congress Resources

Materials in the Collections of the American Folklife Center

Online Materials | New Deal Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture | Selected Bibliography

As part of the New Deal, the U.S. government took a leading role in documenting the music, speech, and artistic efforts of ordinary Americans.  In doing so, it generated rich and extensive collections for the Archive of American Folk-Song.  The Archive, which was established in 1928 as part of the Library’s Music Division, is now part of the American Folklife Center. 

Throughout the South, the Midwest, and the Southwest, as well as in New York City and California, New Deal workers collected songs, tunes, and spoken materials.  These collections made their way to the archive in Washington, D.C. For the most part, the materials comprise field recordings of African American and Anglo-American traditional music, but they also include the first substantial folk music collections from numerous other American ethnic groups. In addition, many of the collections include photographs, drawings, fieldnotes, field reports, and correspondence. 

Many New Deal agencies and programs contributed materials to the Archive, including the Resettlement Administration (RA), the Farm Security Administration (FSA), and a wide range of Works Progress Administration and Work Projects Administration (WPA) programs, such as the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), the Federal Theater Project (FTP), the National Youth Administration (NYA), and the Joint Committee on Folk Arts.

Online Materials

New Deal Projects

California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell
This New Deal project was organized and directed by folk music collector Sidney Robertson Cowell for the Northern California Work Projects Administration. A multi-format ethnographic field collection, it includes sound recordings, still photographs, drawings, and written documents from a variety of European ethnic and English- and Spanish-speaking communities in Northern California. More...

Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942
This multiformat ethnographic field collection documents African-American, Arabic, Bahamian, British-American, Cuban, Greek, Italian, Minorcan, Seminole, and Slavic cultures throughout Florida. Recorded in conjunction with the Florida Federal Writers' Project, the Florida Music Project, and the Joint Committee on Folk Arts of the Work Projects Administration...More...

Traditional Music and Spoken Word Catalog from the American Folklife Center
The card catalog represented in this online database was first created by Work Projects Administration (WPA) workers in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and continued by the Archive of Folk Song (now part of the American Folklife Center) staff into the early 1960s.

Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories
The recordings of former slaves in Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories come from several collections held in the American Folklife Center's Archive of Folk Culture. They were made by various interviewers working in nine Southern states between 1932 and 1975. Three of the recordings were made for the Commonwealth of Virginia between 1937 and 1940 by Roscoe E. Lewis in affiliation with the Federal Writers' Project (FWP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Voices from the Dust Bowl: the Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940-1941
An online presentation of a multi-format ethnographic field collection documenting the everyday life of residents of Farm Security Administration (FSA) migrant work camps in central California in 1940 and 1941.

New Deal Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture

For additional information about Archive of Folk Culture collections, contact the Folklife Reading Room. To request copies, see our web pages regarding audio materials and photographic materials. Please refer to the AFC and/or AFS numbers when requesting information.

There are many New Deal materials in other divisions of the Library of Congress. Consult with individual reading rooms for more information.

AFS 2086-2089: Resettlement Administration Recordings
Four 8-inch discs of instrumentals and songs performed by Rebecca and Penelope Tarwater of Rockwood, Tennessee. Recorded in Washington, D.C., by Charles Seeger for the Special Skills Division of the Resettlement Administration, June 1936.

AFS 3155-3313: Sidney Robertson Cowell and Charles Seeger Resettlement Administration and 1937 National Folk Festival Recordings
One hundred fifty-nine 12-inch discs of instrumentals and songs recorded in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, and Wisconsin by Sidney Robertson Cowell, Charles Seeger, and Margaret Valiant for the Special Skills Division of the Resettlement Administration, 1936-37.

AFS 3314-3334; 3558-3570: Margaret Valiant Farm Security Administration Recordings
Thirty-three 12-inch discs of music recorded in Coolidge and Phoenix, Arizona, including Apache, Hopi, Mojave, Pima, Papago, and Yuma music; and songs recorded in Brawley, Calipatria, Indio, Shafter, and Visalia migratory camps in California, by Margaret Valiant for the Farm Security Administration, February and March 1939.

AFS 3521-3536: Stetson Kennedy and Robert Cook WPA Florida Recordings 
Sixteen 12-inch discs of conversations, games, interviews, riddles, songs, and stories recorded in Cross City, Jacksonville, and Ybor City (Tampa), Florida, by Robert Cook and Stetson Kennedy for the Florida Music and Writers Projects of the WPA, August, 1939. The collection includes 3/8 linear inches of correspondence, explanations, song texts, and translations. (Includes AFS 3521-3536.) Online presentation.

AFS 3538-3550: Alton C. Morris WPA Florida Recordings
Fourteen 12-inch discs of  Czech American, Slovak American, Greek American, and Minorcan American music recorded in Jacksonville, Masaryktown, St. Augustine, Slavia, and Tarpon Springs, Florida, by Alton Chester Morris, assisted by Florida Federal Writers’ Project workers, 1939-40. Online presentation.

AFS 3571-3575: Gordon Barnes Tygart Valley Homesteads Recordings, 1939
Five 12-inch discs of instrumentals and songs performed by Adalena, Addison, and Kathlene Boserman; Joe Haddix; Bob, Dewey, and Myrlo Hamrick; the Happy Mountaineers; Ted Henderson; Cathaline, Geraldine, and Wilma Leigh (Wilma Lee Cooper) Leary; Mr. and Mrs. Orris Poling; Willie Sigler; and Junior Thompson. Recorded at the Tygart Valley Homesteads, Elkins, West Virginia, by Gordon Barnes for the Farm Security Administration, April 4-5, 1939.

AFS 3589-3623: Margaret Valiant Southern States 1939 Collection
Thirty-four 12-inch discs recorded in Forsyth, McIntosh, Georgia, recorded by Margaret Valiant for the National Youth Administration, 1939.

AFS 3673-3683: Nicholas Ray Collection of South Dakota Recordings
Eleven 12-inch discs of folk songs, miners' songs, cowboy songs, army songs, fiddle tunes, spoken stories of Deadwood, and stories and poems about sheep herding. Recorded in Mitchell, South Dakota, by Nicholas Ray, October 1939, for the WPA Recreation Project.

AFS 3789-3795: Charles Seeger WPA South Carolina Recordings, 1939
Seven 12-inch discs of songs and spirituals, including several accompanied on banjo and bones. Recorded on Brevard Plantation, Adams Mill, near Columbia, South Carolina, by Charles Seeger, March 1939.

AFS 3881-3902: Florida WPA Recordings, 1940
Twenty-two 12-inch acetate records made in Florida for the Florida WPA Writers' and Music Projects, and for the Archive of American Folk Song, by Carita Doggett Corse, Robert Cornwall, John Corse, and John Filareton in Glades County, Jacksonville, Kenansville, Mayport, Sebring, and Tarpon Springs, Florida, and at sea, off the Georgia coast, March-July 1940. Online presentation.

AFC 1938/002: Herbert Halpert New York City Collection
Forty-four 12-inch discs of folk songs including spirituals, farming and labor songs, war songs, drinking songs, children’s songs, taunts, lullabies, and love songs, recorded in New York, Ramapo, and Sloatsburg, New York, by Herbert Halpert for the Federal Theatre Project, January 1938 - November 1939. The collection includes 3/8 of a linear inch of correspondence, 13 pages of recording logs and notes, and 25 pages of transcripts. (Includes AFS 3624-3672)

AFC 1939/003: Fletcher Collins, Jr. Collection
Thirty-four 12-inch discs recorded in North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, by Fletcher Collins, Jr. under the auspices of the WPA Joint Committee on Folk Arts, and the Library of Congress, 1935 - 1942. The collection includes indexes, transcriptions, and correspondence. (Includes AFS 2235; 3769-3788; and 6482-6495). Finding aid. Library of Congress catalog.

AFC 1939/004: Rae Korson Collection of WPA Folklore Publications
Three copies of Folk Tunes from Mississippi collected by Arthur Palmer Hudson, edited by George Herzog, National Play Bureau of the Federal Theatre Project, publication no. 25, July 1937; forty copies of Nebraska Folklore, Nebraska Writers' Project, May 1940; one copy of Folk-Songs of America by Robert Winslow Gordon, publication no. 73-S, December 1938; Two copies of Traditional Ballads Mainly from West Virginia by John Harrington Cox, publication no. 75-S, March 1939; one copy of Tennessee Folklore Society, Volume III, No. 2, September 1937; one copy of Publication #81-S from the National Service Bureau, Federal Theatre Project, Works Projects Administration, compiled by John Harrington Cox, introduction by Herbert Halpert.

AFC 1939/005: Herbert Halpert 1939 Southern States Recording Expedition
Four hundred nineteen 12-inch discs of instrumentals, monologs, prayers, sermons, songs, and stories recorded in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, by Herbert Halpert, March - June, 1939, for the Folk Arts Committee of the WPA and the Library of Congress. The collection includes 1 1/4 linear inches of articles, contact sheets, correspondence, descriptions, interviews, lists, photographs, reports, and song texts. (Includes AFS 2735-3153)

AFC 1939/013: Stetson Kennedy WPA Florida Recordings
Eighteen 12-inch discs of imitations, instrumentals, riddles, songs, street cries, and tales of African American, Arabic, Bahamian, British American, Cuban, Greek, Italian, Minorcan, Seminole, and Slavic cultures throughout Florida. Recorded in Key West, Riviera, and Ybor City, Florida, by Robert Cook and Stetson Kennedy for the Florida Music and Writers Projects of the WPA, January 15-31, 1940. The collection includes 1/2 linear inch of descriptions, lists, and song lyrics. (Includes AFS 3378-3395)
Online Presentation.

AFC 1940/001: WPA California Folk Music Project Collection, 1938-1940
Two hundred thirty-nine discs and numerous photographs, drawings, transcriptions, correspondence, and manuscripts documenting seventeen ethnic groups recorded in northern California by Sidney Robertson Cowell for the Northern California WPA as part of the WPA California Folk Music Project, 1938-1940. The project was sponsored by the University of California, Berkeley, and co-sponsored by Library's Archive of American Folk Song. (Includes AFS 3342-3377; 3809-3880; and 4194-4325.) Online presentation.

AFC 1941/018: Robert Sonkin Alabama and New Jersey Collection
Sixty-four 12-inch discs of conversations, interviews, prayer meetings, rhymes, and songs recorded at various locations in Bessemer, Camden, Gee's Bend, Greensboro, Palmerdale, Rehoboth, and Selma, Alabama, and Port Norris and Shell Pile, New Jersey, by Robert Sonkin, June 25-July 25, 1941. The collection includes one inch of content lists and textual transcriptions, including Farm Security Administration reports about Gee's Bend, 1937-1939 and undated. (Includes AFS 5035-5098.)
Finding aid.

AFC Hampton Institute Duplication Project
One hundred 12-inch discs of Negro religious songs, sermons, ex-slave narratives, Joe Louis fights, Eleanor Roosevelt speech, etc., from Hampton, Virginia, recorded by Prof. Roscoe Lewis of Hampton Institute, 1937-1940 [?]. Three discs of ex-slave narratives were made for the Commonwealth of Virginia between 1937 and 1940 by Roscoe E. Lewis in affiliation with Federal Writers' Project of the WPA. (Includes AFS 8222-8321.) Online presentation.    

AFC 1985/001: Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Workers Collection
One hundred twenty-two discs, 27 graphic images (prints and negatives), and 1.5 linear feet of print materials including administrative correspondence, fieldnotes, recording logs, song text transcriptions, dust jackets from the recording discs with handwritten notes, news clippings, publications, and ephemera documenting Farm Security Administration migrant work camps in Arvin, Shafter, Visalia, Firebaugh, Westley, Thornton, and Yuba, California. Recorded by Charles Todd and Robert Sonkin, 1940-41. The collection includes one box of typescripts, newspaper articles and clippings, scrapbook and memorabilia. (Includes AFS 4088-4158; 5099-5146; and 6314-6316.) Online presentation. Library of Congress catalog

Index of American Design
303 microfiches of the consolidated catalog to the Index of American Design, Federal Art Project. Microform number (w)86/3. Library of Congress catalog. Accompanied by The consolidated catalog to the Index of American Design / edited by Sandra Shaffer Tinkham (NK805.I5 1980).

Corporate Subject File materials
Ten linear inches of miscellaneous materials related to folklore and the WPA. Includes bibliographies, clippings, correspondence, memos, reference guides, general information on various agencies, collection surveys, WPA manuals, and folksong questionnaires used by WPA workers. 

Archive of Folk Song card catalog
A joint project of several sections of the WPA created an item-level card index for more than 4,000 recordings accessioned into the collections of the Archive during 1933-1940 and resulted in the 1942 publication by the Library of Congress Music Division of the Check-List of Recorded Songs in the English Language in the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Song to July, 1940. The card index and checklist are housed in the Folklife Reading Room. A digitized version of the card index is now available online: Traditional Music and Spoken Word Catalog.

In addition to these materials generated by various agencies of the New Deal, the Archive includes many materials about the New Deal, such as songs by Woody Guthrie, interviews with fieldworkers (such as Herbert Halpert and Charles L. Todd), and many others. Contact the Folklife Reading Room for more information.

Selected Bibliography

Bibliography: Art, Culture, and Government: The New Deal at 75
This selected bibliography contains references to publications by or about the New Deal programs that focus on folk and traditional culture. It also includes subsequent books, articles, and internet sites that draw upon materials collected by New Deal fieldworkers and researchers. The list is based on the 1979 Library of Congress reference aid "Folklore and the W.P.A.: A Preliminary Bibliography" compiled by Joseph C. Hickerson with the assistance of Herbert Halpert.

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  September 30, 2015
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