Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Presentations and Activities > Timeline
Timeline Home Page
Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal
The Works Progress Administration

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was authorized in April 1935 to put unemployed workers back to work on public projects. The WPA not only created manual labor jobs in construction and other industries, it also created jobs for white-collar workers and helped those in the performing and fine arts. The excerpt that follows is from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 . In it, Myron Buxton, a WPA white-collar worker, discusses perceptions of the WPA and what it has meant to him. What is his attitude towards the WPA? How does he think the WPA has helped to improve his community? Does Mr. Buxton prefer charity over work? Why or why not?

View the entire interview with Myron Buxton. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.

"What do you think of our WPA project headquarters?" he asked, as slim fingers tightened down on the T square, and the stark black line traveled steadily across the gray-white paper. "Used to be a horse-station Fire House," he informed. "The smell's not too bad, as long as you don't go opening the trap in the floor. . . .

"One reason people here don't like WPA is because they don't understand it's not all bums and drunks and aliens! Nobody ever explains to them that they'd never have had the new High School they're so goddam proud of if it hadn't been for PWA. They don't stop to figure that new brick sidewalks wouldn't be there, the shade trees wouldn't be all dressed up to look at along High Street and all around town, if it weren't for WPA projects. To most in this town, and I guess it's not much different in this, than any other New England place, - WPA's just a racket, wet set up to give a bunch of loafers and drunks steady pay to indulge in their vices! They don't stop to consider that on WPA are men and women who have traveled places and seen things, been educated and found their jobs folded up and nothing to replace them with. How you going to call Doc Crowley, for instance, a bum? Practiced a dentist, - and now his eyes are going bad, - think he's not damn grateful for WPA ? How about these college fellows, - some of 'em on here with me,- M.I.T. graduates, - U. of Alabama - Dartmouth - Yale plenty of them can't get work, and why? . . .

". . . You've got me born, - grown up, - single, - working on WPA. I suppose the next thing's where do we go from here? I wish to Hell somebody'd tell me! This 30-day vacation thing will tell one step, I calculate. The vets'll be down on the doorstep of City Hall waiting for the Soldiers' Relief agent! Most of the others'll be lined up on the sidewalk, filing into the Public Welfare office! As for me, what the Hell can I do? If there's anything I hate, it is to have to go down there and look for a damned grocery slip, - but I haven't got a chance of paying two weeks' bills with my check, when it does come,- and being able to finance myself more [that?] two-three days. Then what? I don't know, honestly! My names in for work in the shops, - you can't even register in Boston anymore for work, they'll just look at you as if you were nuts or something! "Why," they'll say, "we can fill jobs for ten years just from the people living right here. Go back where you came from. If you can't find work there, there's certainly nothing here for you!" So it goes! You know, for a long time I didn't dare tell mother I was even on the WPA ! Then, of course, when the checks came to the house in the mail, the jig was up! She felt terribly about it all, but what could we do? If I do have to hit them up for a grocery order, - and God knows I don't know what else I can do, - then I sure hope she don't find out about it. I'm only hoping that [the?] guys that plan this Relief Act may see how foolish it is to hope to drive us into jobs don't exist, - and maybe keep us from having to go through all that damned charity business again. Hell, I feel like I earned my money, working for it! I can hold my head up, for I'm not loafing, nor trying to cheat in any way. When that's taken away, good-night! One thing I will say, - to you! When the city hasn't got funds to finance Public Welfare, - and they start in squawking to the state, - and then when the state finds the burden's more than they can swing, - you'll see how long it takes the old birds in Washington to realize it's government help, or else - it's only that it's too bad to make all the guys go through what they've got to, first, in order to convince Congress we're not just throwing a lot of heffer-dust about ourselves, right?"
top of page

View the entire interview with Myron Buxton from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.