The Works Progress Administration Visual Exhibit is supplementary to the promotion of the University of Kentucky’s WPA collection.  Its purpose is to promote an understanding of what the WPA is and the impact of its projects in Kentucky.  The slides in the links below are the product of my internship for credit, completed at William T. Young Library, University of Kentucky, under the guidance of Jen Bartlett, Mary McLaren, and Dr. Hollingsworth.

WPA Pack Horse Librarians in Kentucky

WPA Project Women’s Training Work Centers

Works Progress Administration Kentucky Co. Adair – Cumberland

Works Progress Administration Kentucky Co. Daviess – Johnson

Works Progress Administration Kentucky Co. Kenton – Muhlenberg

Works Progress Administration Kentucky Co. Nelson – Woodford

Working with the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection from KDL has encouraged my inquisitive nature. Many hours have been spent viewing this collection of 5,699 online pictures (the photographs are in Special Collections at the University of Kentucky). Each day spent at Young Library fulfilling my 144 hours of internship put me in a place of discovery.  Most of my time was posed in front of a computed screen, but I took time to stretch my legs and venture out into the isles of bookshelves looking for WPA information.

Preliminary research into the WPA was needed to gain a general understanding of what I was looking at.  Since University of Kentucky Libraries is the regional depository for over 2000 WPA items, I had no problem finding information.   A journey to the basement of Young Library to view WPA items in SuDoc was most enlightening.  The book covers are plain and most are soft-bound.  They are filled with statistical facts and data.  The titles describe exactly what is contained inside: inventories of county archives (in multiple states), social research guides, marketing laws surveys, youth on relief rolls, general relief benefits, final reports, inventory of records, guide and check lists to governmental record systems, farm and migratory worker statistics, mining and natural resource data…..and so much more.

Information is compacted in these resources and are waiting to be explored and unpacked by a serious student, researcher or historian.  I started to see the connection in the pictures from the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection and the books in front of me.  Those photos of men and women seated at a typewriter with a person dictating from an index card over their shoulder had me looking for “the” copy of ‘inventory of records’ or ‘county archive records’ that was being typed.   The amount of information was intense and I had to reel my mind back in and focus.  The objective was to create a visual display about the WPA in Kentucky.  Some days I just wanted to randomly divert from the pictures and pull a few pieces of material and dig into them.  I saw many ways in which the material was related to more disciplines other than History.  Work (internship) related research was the priority and I had a job to do.  My personal ambitions are noted and reserved for another time.  Researching just the projects of the WPA from a prolific subject like the New Deal can easily be sidetracked.  Lesson dually noted.

The Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection was already chosen for this visual display before I showed up as an intern. Twice a week I met with Mary McLaren, Federal Depository Collections Librarian, to plan and review the visual display content.  My ambition was zealous and guidance was needed.  I was trying to figure out how to tie in the promotion of the libraries’ WPA materials with the visual display.  By this stage in my research, I realized that many disciplines would also find the WPA collection useful, or at least I thought so; but how does one make purpose recognizable?  Mary listened to me intently and offered her wisdom. She said, “Well, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel all in one day.  WPA has a Lib-guide that can be linked to other class course Lib-guides.”  I laughed at her anecdote and was content for the moment with her suggestion.  Improving the WPA Lib-guide is a work in progress and possibly during Fall semester 2012,  I will have the opportunity to work on it.

The WPA visual exhibit will be on display this summer in the Hub of Young Library.  Six projector shows, a TV screen in one core, and a display case for items to be shown. In addition to a few WPA color posters.  The TV screen will run a DVD with sound of Roosevelt’s fireside chats and WPA promotional films made by the government.  I found these movie clips at Internet Archive.

A typed transcript of Roosevelt’s April 28th, 1935 speech was found in the digital archives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.  A copy of it will be available to read as part of the display in the HUB.  Items like these resource links is what the WPA Lib-guide will offer.

Many more WPA pictures are digitized in the Great Depression and New Deal  photo collection of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.  Some of my favorites are below.  I enjoyed viewing photos with similar (and different) content than in the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection.  Like the photos from the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, most of the photos are posed.  The subject scope in other parts of the country enhance my understanding of the work diversity and people across the country that were on work relief rolls and/or received WPA assistance.

The first photo below (from the digital archives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum) of ladies mending, relining, and patching garments is contrasting to the photos of orderly rowed sewing machines in the Women’s Training Centers of Kentucky.  I did not find a photo that resembles this type of Patch-Work Project from the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, but the next photo is of some women not wearing a uniform or smock. The caption does not refer to them as relief workers but as a group of women sewing for flood victims.  Some are dressed up and some have their hats on.  In the next photo, there is reference to ‘patching’ in the caption stating various tasks learned at the Women’s Training Centers.  The third photo below shows women sitting around a table sewing or mending.  The fourth photo below shows black women seated around a table; the caption implies they are learning how to sew.  Other than then this type of pose, other photos of women sewing resemble a factory like setting.  Mending of clothing in Kentucky probably was not of garments like this fur jacket the two ‘Italian’ ladies are displaying.   Many times over the semester I have wondered where these women came from and how were they chosen to work in these Work Training Centers.  Were any women turned away? Was there a skill base requirement? Was everyone who applied accepted and then organized based on their skill level and experience?

“A group of patriotic Italian women learn to do a thrifty job of relining, turning, patching, and making old garments as good as new – saving materials and strengthening morale. “

Photo from Goodman-Paxton Collection

“Women sewing for flood victims in Louisville, KY”

“Training Work Center in the City of Louisville, KY, where women are taught sewing, patching, household management and child care.”

“Six unskilled colored women report for work at the Training Work Center”

“Typical WPA Training Work Center where relief women enjoy working for their livelihood”

This next photo (from the digital archives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum) displaying a mattress is very different from those in the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection.  The caption says it is ‘one of the million mattresses made by low-income farm families’.  I found no photo of a Kentucky family showing off their new mattress.  I will assume there was a need for new mattresses, but will not assume that none were made or received by low-income farm families in Kentucky, I just don’t have a picture to show it.  More research could clarify the question: did Kentucky families receive materials to make mattresses?

“Just one of the million mattresses made by low income-farm families – every mattress made by the family itself of surplus cotton. These are proud possessions in homes where such comfort was unknown before. This Maryland Negro woman shows her mattress to J. B. Pierce, a Federal Negro field agent.”

“Civilian Conservation Corps, Third Corps Area: typing class with W.P.A. instructor”

Two New Deal programs, the CCC and the WPA Teachers Project collaborated as shown in these photos.  WPA teachers instructed classes for the CCC.  I would like to know more about the scope of this collaboration.  What subjects were taught and what constituted a qualified instructor for the CCC’s training?  The photo above is from the digital archives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, and below, from the Good-man Paxton Photographic Collection.

“WPA provides teachers for boys in CCC camps”

The photo below is from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.  It took me a few days to process what I was looking at.  My first thought needs to be laughed at because I thought they were boiling bark as some sort of food preparation.  I realize the ‘fibre’ means just that, fiber to weave and make things for use.  Lost art indeed!  I have nothing from the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection to compare this photo’s subject with.  It represents the broad scope of WPA projects across this country and the people it reached.  The subjects’ poses caused me to imagine this image set-up in a cultural museum as a visual display.

“WPA: FAP: Tonawanda Reservation: sponsored by Rochester Museum: woman and man boiling bark in ashes and water for fibre”

Below is an image that doesn’t specifically state it was a WPA project or if instruction was guided by WPA teachers, but the subject is similar in nature.  Quilting, training, rehabilitation: the scope of the social programs during this era have many stories to tell.  This image suggests differences in need from region to region, and is an example of how easy it was for me to fall away from my research boundary of the WPA in Kentucky.

“Resettlement Administration; Rural Rehabilitation; “Quilting project”; Rock Crest School, Chambersburg TWP., Iredell Co., N.C.”

Much of the work to complete this visual display is of a technical nature.  Choose a picture, place it in the power point, write a caption, document its source, and make adjustments in font, size, color, and fit.  My power point creation skills improved notably.  The experience of working with the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection for more than just a day or week has significantly impacted my understanding of this era.  When I see a picture of a sewer project or a dirt road improved by paving it with crushed stone and think how primitive that was, I must also image what was there prior: a rutted dirt path, a muddy crossing, an out-house.  When these changes are taken into consideration, along with other training and teaching programs, it is easy to recognize the infrastructure of our American culture taking place.  If anyone should ask how this or that got here, I recommend they spend a little time with the WPA.  My presentation is currently being reviewed by the Dean of Libraries for approval.


The Dean of Libraries has featured the WPA promotion project.  He describes what I am doing in part of my Internship by talking about the audio-visual display.  Check it out!  Bird’s Eye View 2.24.12

These photographs are from the Library of Congress digital collection, American Memory: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsahtml/fahome.html .  Sharing pictures is fun and since my project focuses on the Goodman-Paxton collection as part of UK’s collection, I wanted to find a place to showcase them.

Jeffersontown, Kentucky. The Jefferson County community cannery, started by the WPA. Women pay three cents each for cans and two cents per can for use of the pressure cooker.

Girls canning some of the beans raised in their victory gardens.

Mrs. Fred Kemper(left), and Mrs. Roland Kemper canning asparagus that they bought in the market.

Mrs. Thomas Benton of Louisville, whose husband is in the United States Army, slicing beets into a can.

Mrs. Sherman Vogt loading the back of the car with some of her 150 cans of string beans.

Mrs. Thelma Farmer(left), of the vocational education department, showing one of the women how to pre-cook vegetables before sealing the cans and pressure cooking them.

WPA Promotion Project

WPA Women’s Sewing Project, Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, PA64M1,Special Collections, University of Kentucky

Many hours have been spent searching and viewing the ASERLWPA collection and the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection to lean as much as I can about what the WPA was, did, and what items are available here at the University of Kentucky. There are many books from the ASERLWPA Collection with a Library of Congress number, on the shelves that can be checked out. Much of the collection has a SuDoc call number. This just covers the books at Young Library. Special Collections also has WPA items. I visited Ruth Bryan, Director of Archives, for help finding “WPA” within their specific collections. She used her archivist toolkit and ran a search. The results are: Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, Goodman-Paxton papers, Alben W. Barkley Collection, Albert B. “Happy” Chandler Collection, The Bullock-Pettit Photographic Collection, Thomas Poe Cooper papers, Margaret I. King papers, Louis Edward Nollau F Series Photographic Print Collection, Thomas R. Underwood papers, and Harriette Simpson Arnow papers. There is enough material here to keep me busy!

WPA Writier's Project

Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, PA64M1,Special Collections, University of Kentucky

What am I going to do with all this research?  Jen Bartlett has assigned me to work with Mary McLaren to work on promotional activities for the WPA Collection, IMLS Leadership Grant.  We had a meeting to discuss the September program and what part of this I would be assisting.  My part is creating an audio-visual display in the Hub of Young Library.  To do this, the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection will be utilised; many photos representing each of the 120 counties in Kentucky will project onto the walls in the Hub.  They are examples of WPA constuction of buildings, bridges, roads, schools, hospitals, sewers, water mains, etc.  Also, there will be images of WPA writers, pack horse librarians, WPA teachers, Women’s Training Centers, WPA sponsored recreation and activities.  In the core of the Hub where there is a TV, a DVD will show a continuous stream of Rosevelt’s Fireside Chats.  In display cases a selection of books from the ASERLWPA Collection will be available to view.  Other ideas are still on the drawing board: foam board displays of pictures or fireside chat transcripts.  All of the material that has been chosen thus far has been checked for copright.  The Goodman-Paxton photos are cited properly as prefered by Special Collections, and the audio files of Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats, found at Interner Archive, are public domain.

Other ASERLWPA Collection promotion will be through expanding the WPA Lib Guide on the University’s library website.

This is a sample of the visual display for Hub projectors:  Works Progress Administration 120 KY Co. O-W

Addition to Barber Hall at the University of Kentucky2/11/1938 – 12/15/1938

Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, PA64M1,Special Collections, University of Kentucky

What is the WPA?

WPA is the Works Progress Administration. It is the largest job initiative ever created in the United States, a division of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. From 1935 to 1943, $10.5 billion was spent employing 8.5 million Americans. The Depression and unemployment left millions of Americans homeless, hungry, and wandering the country in search of work.  The WPA aimed at relieving Suffering Americans.

An evaluation of the country’s infrastructure by Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins, who headed the WPA, found unpaved roads, outdated bridges, inadequate water and sewage treatment centers,  erosion and deforestation of the National Parks, and a need for help when disaster struck.  Job programs were created for all these projects.  Additionally, workers were needed to build schools, hospitals, and airports.

The WPA also gave jobs to teachers, artists, musicians, writers, nurses, and doctors.  The adult literacy rate improved, children were vaccinated, free plays and concerts entertained millions, guides to city and state landmarks were written, oral histories of former slaves were recorded, and murals painted.  And as part of the war effort, the WPA trained workers to help meet demands of WWII.  Military bases were repaired and armories built.

Despite the positive intention of the WPA, there was Conservative objections to its projects.  wastefulness and inefficiency were two themes of WPA objection.

Roosevelt To Make Jobs For 3,500,000 Now On Relief; Pushes His Social Program