The Federal Writers' Project State Guides
by James K. Sayre
Probably the best single overview of the United States in the late 1930s was the work completed by the Federal Writers Project, part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which published its brilliant and comprehensive travel, history and information state guides from 1937 through 1941. The federal government program that funded the writing, editing and publishing of these guides ran from 1935 to 1939, and individual states continued funding the projects until 1943. One Guide was published by each of the then forty-eight States, with the addition of Guides about Puerto Rico, Washington (the District of Columbia) and the Alaska Territory.
Each State commissioned a group of writers and researchers to gather information about its history, folklore, geography, people travel accomodations, transportation and agricultural and industrail products. These guides were written with the curious reader and the intrepid traveler in mind, but are now excellent guides to the American view of their own history in the 1930s.
Of course, now in the 21st century, we can look back as we read these books (the forty-eight states, New York City and the Territory of Alaska) and raise our eyebrows about the dated racial, class and sexual attitudes. But this series of books does provide very interesting bedtime reading and an excellent view of the times.
These State guides should be available in any good public library, or if not, can be obtained by using the Inter Library Loan (ILL) system. Just ask your friendly local reference librarian.
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Web page last updated on 18 March 2006.