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New Deal Programs: Selected Library of Congress Resources

Materials in the Collections of the Manuscript Division

WPA Records | Selected Personal Papers

The Library's Manuscript Division has custody of the bulk of the Library's collection of the records of the Federal Writers' Project, the Historical Records Survey, and the Research Library of the WPA. The Division also holds the personal papers of a number of participants in various New Deal projects such as the FWP and the Farm Security Administration.

The finding aid for the collection United States Work Projects Administration records, 1524-1975 is available here. Please contact the Manuscript Division for further information.

WPA Records: Administrative Information

Provenance: The records of the Federal Writers' Project and the Historical Records Survey of the United States Work Projects Administration were transferred to the Library of Congress by the United States Work Projects Administration from 1936 to 1944, with the bulk of the material received in 1940-1941. Portions of the records were held by various divisions of the Library before being processed by the Manuscript Division in 1984. Additional items were transferred to the Manuscript Division from other divisions in the Library from 1989 to 1996, and an item was given by the New Jersey Historical Commission in 1997. Records comprising the research library of the United States Work Projects Administration were received in the Library in the 1950s and were transferred from the Collections Policy Office to the Manuscript Division in 1998.

Processing History: The records of the United States Work Projects Administration were processed in 1984. The collection was revised and expanded in 1998 and 1999. The register was revised in 2008.

Transfers: Some photographs and drawings have been transferred to the Library's Prints and Photographs Division where they are identified as part of these records. Some maps have been transferred to the Library’s Geography and Map Division and some music and material from the Federal Theater Project have been transferred to the Library’s Music Division, where they are also identified as part of these records.

Copyright Status: The contents of public records created by federal agencies may or may not be covered by copyright legislation. It is the researcher's responsibility to determine requirements of domestic copyright laws and international treaties and conventions.

Microfilm: Microfilm editions of two parts of these records are available on fifty reels. Consult a reference librarian in the Manuscript Division concerning availability for purchase or interlibrary loan. An additional reel of microfilm copied from material in the Ohio Historical Society is available for use in the Manuscript Division Reading Room. Also available on one reel of microfilm for use in the Manuscript Division is an inventory of Mormon diaries and life sketches copied for the Historical Records Survey.

Electronic Format: A digital version of part of the records of the United States Work Projects Administration is available on the Internet at the Manuscript Division home page of the Library of Congress Web site.

Preferred Citation: Researchers wishing to cite this collection should include the following information: Container number, Records of the United States Work Projects Administration, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

WPA Records: Scope and Content Note

Federal Writers' Project of the United States Work Projects Administration
The records of the Federal Writers' Project of the United States Work Projects Administration span the years 1524-1947, with the bulk of the items created from 1935 to 1942. They are comprised of correspondence, memoranda, field reports, notes, drafts of essays, lists, drawings, maps, graphs, newspaper clippings, transcripts of documents, oral testimony in the form of life histories, folklore material, inventories, statements, critical appraisals, speeches, administrative records, instructions, scripts, plays, and surveys. Material prior to 1935 consists mostly of transcripts made or copied for references purposes or for preservation. The files of the Federal Writers' Project are arranged in the following series: Administrative File, American Guide File, Folklore Project, Social-Ethnic Studies, Special Studies and Projects, Negro Studies Project, Slave Narrative Project, Miscellaneous Records, Miscellany and Printed Matter. A small Addition was made to the records in 1998.

The Federal Writers' Project was created in 1935 as part of the United States Work Progress Administration to provide employment for historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers. Originally, the purpose of the project was to produce a series of sectional guide books under the name American Guide, focusing on the scenic, historical, cultural, and economic resources of the United States. Eventually the new programs developed and projects begun under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration were absorbed by the writers' project.

From its inception in 1935 through late 1939, the Federal Writers' Project was directed by Henry Alsberg, a former lawyer who became interested in the theater as a writer and as a director of off-Broadway productions. His correspondence makes up the bulk of letters in the collection. Associates who also appear as project correspondents include Merle Colby, George Cronin, Joseph Gaer, Reed Harris, and Claire Laning. Among the folklorists represented are Benjamin Botkin and John A. Lomax. Poets and writers whose works appear in the records include, Nelson Algren, Sterling Brown, Jack Conroy, and Richard Wright.

The Administrative File contains correspondence of Alsberg, dated mostly from 1939, and instructional matter reflecting the operation of the program. It supplements the Federal Writers' Project administrative records held by the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 69. A preliminary inventory, the Records of the Federal Writers' Project Work Projects Administration, 1935-44, was compiled by Katherine H. Davidson, in 1953.

The American Guide File, the largest series, includes research data and drafts of writings which went into producing state guide books. The records reflect topics such as local history, folklore, economic development, scenic areas, places of interest, local lore, facts, and tours. The books were initiated to stimulate travel to bolster the economy during the Great Depression.

Other series in the Federal Writers' Project Records reflect areas of interest developed by the project: rural and urban folklore, including individual narratives and life histories; studies of customs of social and ethnic groups; source materials regarding African Americans; testimony of ex-slaves and slave-related material including copies of purchase agreements and sale advertisements; and a compilation of printed matter now on microfilm.

Historical Records Survey of the United States Work Projects Administration
The records of the Historical Records Survey of the United States Work Projects Administration span the period 1608-1942, with the bulk of the material copied or transcribed from 1935 to 1942. The records consist of correspondence, memoranda, reports, lists, surveys, instructional manuals, guides, personnel records, data sheets, reports, notes, newspaper articles, transcripts of documents, catalog entries, and index cards. The files of the Historical Records Survey are arranged in the following series: Administrative File; Manuscript Record Survey, National Office; Church Records Survey, District of Columbia; Municipal Records Survey, District of Columbia; Imprints Inventory, District of Columbia; Archival and Manuscript Records; Miscellany; Printed Matter; and Addition.

The Historical Records Survey was inaugurated in 1935. Employing white-collar workers, the project inventoried and published state and county historical records. It surveyed and indexed selections of manuscript collections held in public and private depositories, prepared a bibliographic record of books published before the copyright law of 1876, surveyed federal records in state depositories, and undertook related historical projects designed to provide scholars with a more detailed account of public and private records throughout the country.

Reports, guides, instructional material, and correspondence make up the Administrative File of the records. A description of the administrative records of the Historical Records Survey held by the National Archives and Records Administration is contained in the Preliminary Checklist of the Records of the Historical Records Survey, 1935-42, issued by the National Archives in 1945. Other series in the Library's collection contain scattered documentation of the surveys themselves. Most substantive is source material relating to the District of Columbia. The Church Record Survey, District of Columbia, highlights church and religious activity in Washington, D. C., while the Municipal Records Survey, District of Columbia, focuses on the boards, commissions, and departments of the nation's capital from 1937 to 1941. Prominent in the Archival and Manuscript Records are Mormon life histories and other sources for studying families who settled in Utah.

Research Library of the United States Work Projects Administration
Records relating to the Research Library of the Work Projects Administration were added to the collection in 1999. They contain reports, publications, and related material documenting the social welfare programs of the Depression era. Records span the years 1925-1947 with the bulk dated 1935-1942. The reports were written by state and local agencies of federal programs, particularly the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and the Work Projects Administration, and also by private organizations such as the American Public Welfare Association, the Chamber of Commerce, Community Chests, and the Family Welfare Association.

Research Library material is organized in a State File and National File. The State File includes reports, publications, financial records, personnel forms, procedural and instructional manuals, photographs, press releases and other promotional material, speeches, newsletters, bulletins, memoranda and correspondence. Of note are reports on work relief activities submitted by state offices of the emergency relief administration in 1935. The narrative reports often include photographs and other illustrations, charts, graphs, and statistical data.

The National File includes reports and related records from federal government programs and from the national offices of private welfare organizations.

Material in the Research Library supplements the "Records of the Work Projects Administration," Record Group 69, held by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Selected Personal Papers

Benjamin V. Cohen papers, 1902-1983 (bulk 1918-1983)
ID No.: MSS61590
Description:9,850 items ; 26 containers plus 6 classified ; 14.4 linear feet
Finding Aid: [outline view] [PDF: 58KB / 11 pages]; requires the free Adobe Acrobat reader to view.
Lawyer and statesman. Correspondence, memoranda, speeches, writings, notes, reports, printed matter, and other papers pertaining to Cohen's career in public service and as a private counselor.

Thomas Corcoran Papers, 1792-1982 (bulk 1965-1980)
ID No.: MSS61440
Description: 175,175 items ; 638 containers plus 1 classified ; 245.6 linear feet
Finding Aid: [outline view] [PDF: 213KB / 63 pages];requires the free Adobe Acrobat reader to view.
Lawyer. Correspondence, memoranda, speeches, writings, notes, reports, briefs, opinions, testimony, family papers, business records, newspaper clippings, printed material, and other papers documenting Corcoran's private legal practice and his government service during the first two presidential terms of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Papers of Jack Delano, 1927-1995 (bulk 1941-1943).
ID No.: MSS84274
Description: 700 items. 6 containers plus 1 oversize. 2.4 linear feet.
Finding aid: [outline view] [PDF: 25KB / 5 pages]; requires the free Adobe Acrobat reader to view.
Photographer, filmmaker, classical music composer, and book illustrator. Born 1914 as Jacob Ovcharov in Kiev, Ukraine; immigrated to the U.S. in 1922; died 1997 in Puerto Rico where he had lived since 1946.
Summary: Chiefly correspondence, notebooks, and caption books relating to works by Delano as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information depicting the Great Depression, railroads in the West, Acadian farmers in Maine, and life in the South and in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Also includes transcript of an oral history interview conducted with Delano sponsored by the Archives of American Art and material relating to Elizabeth Kenny.
Note: most photographs in the collection are housed in the Prints & Photographs Division.

Ralph Ellison: A Register of His Papers in the Library of Congress
ID No.: MSS83111 .
Description: 46,100 items; 231 plus 22 oversize; 110 linear feet.
Finding aid: [outline view] [PDF: 206KB / 52 pages]; requires the free Adobe Acrobat reader to view.
Access advisory: Restrictions may apply. Contact the Manuscript Reading Room for further information.
The Family Papers Series of the Ellison collection contains personal material pertaining to Ellison, his wife, Fanny McConnell Ellison, and their parents, siblings, former spouses, and other relatives. A substantial file relating to Ellison's employment includes material from his many teaching appointments. Of particular interest are the notes and reports he compiled for the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Fanny Ellison's employment papers document her work for the American Medical Center for Burma through the Harold L. Oram agency and her contribution as one of the founders of the Negro People's Theatre in Chicago. Also noteworthy are her drawings pertaining to the history of costume executed as a WPA project for the Chicago Board of Education.

Felix Frankfurter papers, 1846-1966 (bulk 1907-1966)
ID No.: MSS47571
Description: 70,625 items ; 259 containers ; 106.4 linear feet ; 165 microfilm reels
Finding Aid [outline view]: [PDF: 780KB / 71 pages]; requires the free Adobe Acrobat reader to view.
Correspondence, memoranda, diaries, oral history interviews, writings, speeches, notes, legal file, newspaper clippings, printed material, photographs, and other papers reflecting Felix Frankfurter's involvement with significant political and social movements and events and his acquaintance with leaders in many segments of society.

Harold L. Ickes Papers, 1815-1969 (bulk 1933-1951)
ID No.: MSS27011
Description: 150,000 items ; 490 containers plus 93 oversize ; 221 linear feet ; 21 microfilm reels
Finding Aid [outline view]: [PDF: 235KB / 66 pages]; requires the free Adobe Acrobat reader to view.
Lawyer and secretary of the interior. Correspondence, diaries, speeches and writings, family papers, legal and financial records, subject files, scrapbooks, and other papers documenting all aspects of Ickes's career, especially his service as secretary of the interior.

Katharine Amend Kellock Papers, 1924-1967.
ID No.: MMC-0617
Description: 400 items. 1 container.
Finding Aid [outline view] [PDF: 31KB / 5 pages]; requires the free Adobe Acrobat reader to view.
Correspondence, reports, writings, printed material, and other papers relating chiefly to Kellock’s work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Resettlement Administration and the Federal Writers’ Project. Also includes material relating to a biography of John Adams, the Council of Foreign Ministers, and the Dies Committee; and papers of Harold Kellock relating to Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Correspondents include Van Wyck Brooks and Bernard De Voto.

John Adams Kingsbury Papers, 1841-1966 (bulk 1906-1939)
ID No.: MSS28662
Description: 57,400 items; 165 containers; 65.5 linear feet.
Finding aid: [outline view] [PDF: 162KB / 48 pages]; requires the free Adobe Acrobat reader to view.
Kingsbury served 1935-39 as an administrative consultant to Harry Lloyd Hopkins, chief, Works Progress Administration and an administrative consultant to Aubrey Williams, chief, National Youth Administration. The collection contains 10 folders of WPA-related correspondence, as well as correspondence with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Roosevelt administration figures such as Hopkins, Harold Ickes, Henry Morgenthau Jr., and Frances Perkins.

Arthur Rothstein Papers, 1936-2000 (bulk 1952-1985)
ID No.: MSS84965
Description: 3,150 items. 9 containers. 3.6 linear feet.
Finding Aid [outline view]-- contact the Manuscript Reading Room for further information.
Access Advisory: Restrictions apply.
Correspondence, memoranda, speeches and lectures, writings, notes, subject files, transcripts, press clippings, and other papers relating to Rothstein’s career as a photographer for the U.S. Farm Security Administration (FSA) and Look and Parade magazines and as an educator on the subject of photography. Subjects include rural and small town America from 1935 until the early 1940s. Includes a transcript of a 1952 conversation between Roy Emerson Stryker and FSA photographers Dorothea Lange, Rothstein, and John Vachon pertaining to their work.
Note: Most photographs, negatives, and contact sheets transferred to Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

John Vachon Papers, 1913-1995 (bulk 1935-1959)
ID No.: MSS85246
Description: 4,000 items; 12 containers; 4.6 linear feet.
Finding aid: [outline view] [PDF: 28KB / 6 pages]; requires the free Adobe Acrobat reader to view.
Photographer. Correspondence, family papers, writings, and miscellaneous material relating primarily to Vachon’s career as a photographer with the Farm Security Administration, Office of War Information, and Look magazine.
Note: The Prints & Photographs Division of the Library of Congress has custody of John Vachon’s photographic collection of prints and negatives.

 

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  October 1, 2015
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