The WPA Guide to 1930s IOWA

The WPA Guide to 1930s Iowa


Originally published during the Great Depression, The WPA Guide nevertheless finds much to celebrate in the heartland of America. Nearly three dozen essays highlight Iowa’s demography, economy, and culture but the heart of the book is a detailed traveler’s guide, organized as seventeen different tours, that directs the reader to communities of particular social and historical interest.

In the first 100 days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term in office, the so-called New Deal agencies were launched to counter the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Of the approximately 100 administrations, commissions and projects that were initiated, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was the largest.

Federal Writers’ Project

One of many projects undertaken by the WPA was the Federal Writers’ Project, created in 1935.

The American Guide Series was a subset of works produced by the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) and and is one of the most well-known FWP projects.  The American Guide Series Books, created through a cooperative effort of both Federal and State organizations, are part travel guide, part almanac. Each includes illustrations and photographs and offers a fascinating snapshot of the 48 United States in the Union, and Alaska, in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Additionally there are guides covering some of the major cities and some smaller ones, and a selection that focuses on inter-state adventures.

According to Wikipedia, the series of books were printed by individual states, and contained detailed histories of each of the then 48 states of the Union with descriptions of every major city and town. The project employed over 6,000 writers.


The WPA Guide to 1930s Iowa has been reprinted, and is available through Amazon. It’s not cheap but since I’ve been writing about that era, it’s been a great resource and is fun to read. It’s arranged by tours, with information to learn about each town on your trip.

Wikipedia gives a list of states and cities with books written about them in the 1930s for the Federal Writers’ Project. Several of them have been reprinted and are available through Amazon.


  1. The WPA had so many worthwhile projects that have now become an important chronicle of our nation’s history. I once read a biography of a director involved in the WPA Theatre project. It was fascinating!

    • There’s a Living New Deal organization still in existence, chronicling anything saved that we still enjoy from that era. They asked to reprint my story about the Dexter Library because its remodeling was a WPA project. I only was aware of it because Grandpa Clabe was part of the crew! The library still has the WPA plaque.

      • I just found the Living New Deal organziation’s website! There was even a project in little old Enosburg. Thank you for letting me know about the site!!

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