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Pathways Through Our Past


A few weeks ago I wrote about the Depression and the New Deal programs that Franklin Delano Roosevelt put into effect.

The Works Project Administration was the largest New Deal agency, employing millions to carry out public works projects, including construction of public building sand roads, operating large arts, drama, media and literacy projects.

It fed children and redistributed food, clothing and housing. Just about every community in the United States had a park, bridge or school constructed by the agency, especially benefited were rural the Western populations.

Expenditures from 1936 to 1939 totaled nearly $7 billion. The program was funded by Congress with passage of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935. The bill passed by a margin of 329 to 78.

The WPA provided jobs and income to the unemployed during the Great Depression in the United States between 1935 and 1943. During that time the program provided almost 8 million jobs. Most people who needed jobs were eligible for at least some of its jobs. Hourly wages were the prevailing wages in each area. Rules said workers could not work more than 30 hours a week, but many projects included months in the field with workers eating and sleeping on the worksite.

About 15 percent of the households heads on relief were woman. Youth programs were operated separately by the National Youth Administration. The average worker was about 40 years old.

The WPA was consistent with the strong belief of the times that husbands and wives should not both be working as the second person working was taking a job from a breadwinner.

A study of 2,000 women workers in Philadelphia showed that 90 percent were married but wives reported as living with their husbands in only 18 percent of the cases. All of these women, it was reported, were responsible for from one to five additional people in the household.

In rural Missouri 60 percent of the WAP-employed women were without husbands (12 percent were single: 25 percent widowed: and 23 percent divorced, separated or deserted). Thus only 40 percent were married and living with their husband, but 59 percent of the husbands were permanently disabled, 17 percent were temporarily disabled, 13 percent were to old to work and the remaining 10 percent were either unemployed or handicapped.

Most of the woman worked with sewing projects, where they were taught to use sewing machines and made clothing, bedding and supplies for hospitals, orphanages and adoption centers.