WPA Programs by the New Deal during the 1930s

Works Progress Adminstration (WPA), created by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1935, set up jobs for public works projects, such as the roadwork that Clabe Wilson was hired for in Dallas County, Iowa, and the remodeling of a building that became the Dexter Public Library and a community room.

It also sponsored projects in the arts, helping those already skilled in writing, acting, music, and drama.

Farm Security Administration

The FSA was begun in 1935 to help tenant farmers and sharecroppers. They wanted to document their efforts, which resulted in a most compelling collection of Depression Era photographs. They are available through the Library of Congress.

John M. Zielinski has documented some of the Iowa photos in his Unknown Iowa: Farm Security Administration Photos 1936-1941. I’m especially drawn to the ones of the children and families, and ones taken indoors before flash cameras were readily available.

“SMITHLAND VICINITY “December 1936. The children of Earl Pauley in their home on submarginal farmland. Russell Lee.” Russell Lee was a photographer for Farm Security. From “Unknown Iowa: Farm Security Photos 1936-1941” by John M. Zielinski. I had to look up Smithland, Iowa. It’s in Woodbury County, near Sioux City.
Photo on the cover: GRUNDY COUNTY October, 1939. A hired hand on the Fred Ukro farm with corn used in a test for the yield. Arthur Rothstein

Arthur Rothstein will be featured in Wednesday’s blog post.




  1. I really enjoy it when macro-history is turned into personal, micro-history like this, taking the nation-wide programs and showing how they affected or were seen in a local area by “real people,” not just “the general population.”

  2. Hi Joy,

    Very nice post.

    I just wanted to check. Did you email me about Twitter or is someone posing as you. The messages were a bit cryptic, and I began to wonder.


  3. Wow, the only historical American photos I am really familiar with are Jacob Riis’ of the lower East Side in NYC and then some of the dust bowl. This is so cool!

  4. I’m thinking I should look through those collections for South Dakota images. I think I’ve viewed some parts of the collection before. The WPA also did a project creating inventories of county records and where they were stored. Of course it’s all so out of date now. But it’s interesting to read through and see what documents were created that we may not be aware of and might still exist somewhere.

  5. My mother was born in 1934 and my father in 1929. My mom has several old photos from her childhood. I love to look through them! I recently found a little snapshot of my grandparents from one of those old photo booths. My youngest son was so excited to see it…:) Young people are often very interested in all the things previous generations did. My youngest son searches for vinyl records from way back, and that kind of thing. (He has found some neat stuff.) Loved the photos you posted here…

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