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Above: The WPA would sometimes put together exhibits to highlight their work, no doubt (in part) to answer their critics' charges of "boondoggling."  I don't know when and where the above picture was taken, but a Baltimore Sun article from May 16, 1940 reports on such an exhibit at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore.  We learn that WPA workers performed their work while the public visited the exhibit, that there were tour guides to show the public around, and that the Maryland WPA Orchestra would play music at various times during the day.  ("Thirty WPA Projects Open For Inspection Next Week," p. 6)

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Other WPA Projects in Maryland--Page 1
(See More Photos Below!)

      As I've written and shown elsewhere on this website, the variety of the work that the WPA performed was mind-boggling.  Generally speaking, the CCC was focused on jobless young men and forestry work; and the PWA was focused on funding very large projects (e.g., the Hoover Dam), with or without the assistance of the jobless.  The accomplishments of these and similar programs were (and still are) of immense, incalculable value to the country.  But no Roosevelt-era program came anywhere near the variety of the WPA.  As you will see below and on other pages of this website (or in books, photograph collections, and other websites) the WPA engaged in archaeological digs, theater plays, historical preservation projects, writing projects, art projects, music projects, toy repair, food distribution, work in & around military installations, sewing projects, research projects, park & recreation projects, airport development, nursery schools, adult & youth education classes, disaster relief work, environmental conservation projects, museum & library projects, and more, as well as, of course, their more well-known infrastructure work.

     It is worth repeating here, a quote I have elsewhere on this website:

"Never before in the history of the human race has a public works program, whose principal object was the mitigation of need due to unemployment, reached the magnitude of the Work Projects Administration. This is true, however you measure it--by persons employed, money expended, or volume of results."  (Joanna C. Colcord, Director of the Charity Organization Department of the Russell Sage Foundation, in The WPA and Federal Relief Policy, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1943, p. 15)         

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Photo credits: Unless otherwise noted, all black and white photos were taken by the WPA, are in the public domain, and provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.  All color photos--unless otherwise noted--were taken by Brent McKee.  Click here for more information on photo credits, permission to use, and exhibit descriptions.

 You can scroll through all the sections below, or jump to the section you want to see:

1.
Orchestra
2. Food, Nutrition, & Health
3.
Education
4. Sewing Projects
5. Book Repair
6. Braille
7. Research Studies
8.
Theater


 1. Orchestra

Above: The Maryland WPA Orchestra was conducted by Emile S. Odend'hal.  This picture is in the WPA photograph collection at the University of Maryland College Park Archives, with the description "WPA Orchestra, Marine Hospital."  In the narrative below, you will see that the Maryland WPA Orchestra played at the Marine Hospital after the war started, as well as other military installations/facilities.  However, I don't know where the Marine Hospital was located.

Brief WPA Orchestra History (based on several Baltimore Sun articles)
:   

     A Baltimore Sun article from July 9, 1936 informs us that Emile S. Odend'hal--conductor of the Maryland WPA Orchestra--was "a veteran conductor of theater orchestras in Baltimore" and that the "popularity of the orchestra has developed rapidly since starting a series of Sunday afternoon concerts last March at the Baltimore Museum of Art."  We also learn that concerts were at Patterson Park.  Musicians for the Maryland WPA Orchestra were initially limited to those on relief but, after another grant of funding, Odend'hal explained the orchestra's improved potential: "Now...we can draw from the unemployed (there were technical differences between being "on relief" and simply being "unemployed").  There are numerous string players available, but brass is scarce...The orchestra has loopholes to be filled in.  I could use a trombone, an oboe and a French horn.  I would like to see twenty-five men in the organization."  ("Enlarging of WPA Orchestra Being Planned By Conductor," p. 22)

     An interesting article appeared a few days later on July 13, 1936.  It's interesting for two reasons.  First, it gives us a taste of the hardship people go through when they can't find work.  And second, it is evidence (which we can add to a universe of other evidence) that the unemployed are not intrinsically lazy, and not out of work because they're inherently flawed workers.  The article begins, "Nine discouraged musicians, who, during the depression, had pawned their instruments and gone on relief, are getting a new start in the Baltimore WPA orchestra...And although the orchestra has only been in existence a few months, the musicians who compose it are working with the devotion and esprit de corps of a veteran organization..."  Odend'hal claimed that in "all his experience...he has never directed a more earnest group."  Also, we learn that the orchestra played on the radio on Wednesdays from 4-4:30pm.  ("Lauds Musicians In WPA Orchestra," p. 4).  ***As an aside, can you imagine how the jobless musicians must have felt being a part of the WPA orchestra, playing before eager audiences, and receiving a small paycheck...after having pawned their instruments and gone on relief?  This is a big benefit of a WPA or WPA-type program--it maintains skills and rejuvenates a battered spirit.

     By December of 1936, the orchestra had increased to 21 musicians, but an order from D.C. to cut back on "white-collar" projects, effective December 15, forced a reduction to 18.  ("WPA Band Forced To Drop 3 Players," December 7, 1936, p. 7).  You see here a (probable) example of the sometimes schizophrenic handling of the WPA on the part of the Roosevelt administration.  On the one hand, they wanted to provide jobs to people who couldn't find work in the private sector.  On the other hand, they (some of them anyway) didn't want to be accused of spending too much money and stepping on the toes of the private sector.  To people paying attention to the current political situation, this economic schizophrenia will sound eerily familiar.  Many scholars and commentators have viewed this constant adding and subtracting from the WPA (recall that the orchestra had been permitted to add more musicians just a few months earlier) as a hindrance to full economic recovery.  In their view--which I share--the WPA was not allowed to mature to its full potential.  This hindered the ability of the WPA program to restore consumer purchasing power & consumer confidence to a level substantial enough to end the Depression. 

     On August 11, 1938, a typical announcement was posted in the Baltimore Sun: "WPA Concert Tonight: The Works Progress Administration Concert Orchestra will give a two-hour concert at 8 o'clock tonight in Patterson Park.  Emile S. Odend'hal will conduct"  (p. 5).  

     On September 1, 1939, the Baltimore Sun published a letter from a reader who was disappointed by an apparent reduction in the orchestra's playing schedule:

"...These concerts given by the Baltimore WPA Orchestra have been thoroughly enjoyable and I can see no reason for discontinuing them.  True, the audiences have not been so large, but they have been extremely appreciative.  Lately the attendance has increased considerably and the programs have improved...Why take away one of the few cultural advantages offered to Baltimoreans?"  ("A Good Word For The WPA Orchestra Concerts," p. 12)

     A September 14, 1941 announcement in the Baltimore Sun (p. M8) gives us an idea of the type of musical selections the orchestra played (this one at the Baltimore Museum of Art).  Among the numbers listed were "Overture to Oberon" by Von Weber, "Two Oriental Dances" by Crist, "Nocturnal Piece" by Schumann, and "The Fortune Teller" by Herbert.

     By March of 1942, the Maryland WPA Orchestra was playing for soldiers as part of the war effort.  It was also being defended by State WPA Administrator, Harry D. Williar, from a political attack from Republican Congressional Representative John Taber, who accused the WPA's nation-wide music program of
"fiddling around."  Williar stated, "I see no reason for cutting it off.  In my judgment it is a very creditable project and meets a decided need in the community."  At this point, the Maryland WPA Orchestra was playing at various military venues (e.g., Fort Meade and a Marine Hospital), as well as venues for the elderly and the ill.  It was also still giving performances at the Baltimore Museum of Art.  ("WPA Orchestra's Schedule Here 'Not 100 P.C. Military,'" Baltimore Sun, March 13, 1942, p. 17).  As late as June 1942, the orchestra was also still giving performances at Patterson Park.  ("WPA Orchestra Concert," Baltimore Sun, June 25, 1942, p. 5).

     I'm note sure when the Maryland WPA Orchestra was officially terminated, but their performances at the Baltimore Museum of Art were discontinued in the fall of 1942.  And of course, the WPA--in its entirety--was closed at the end of June 1943.  But there's reason to be optimistic about the fortunes of the members of the orchestra.  The same Baltimore Sun article that noted the cessation of WPA concerts at the Baltimore Museum of Art also noted that public demand for concerts had greatly increased.  (Weldon Wallace, "War Stimulates Public's Music Appreciation Here," December 24, 1942, p. 4).  Hopefully, the jobless musicians who joined the Maryland WPA Orchestra secured employment in other orchestras.

     The Maryland WPA Orchestra gave hope, a job, and skill-maintenance to out-of-work musicians.  The orchestra also gave performances on the radio, as well as years of live performances to thousands of Marylanders, soldiers, the elderly, and the ill.  To my way of thinking, this was a better outcome than jobless musicians pawning their instruments for food.    
       
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 2. Food, Nutrition, & Health

Above: The description for this photo merely reads, "WPA Food Distribution," so it's impossible to know exactly what's going on in the picture.  However, according to the U.S. Government's Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, across the nation "Surplus supplies of food, clothing, and other commodities donated or purchased by Federal, State, or other agencies were transported, warehoused, and distributed through the assistance of WPA projects to needy persons, public institutions, or other WPA projects.  At first, such supplies were often distributed to relief clients at the central depot where they were stored; but many people lived a long distance from the central depot, and so a delivery system, using WPA workers, was set up in many localities.  This method of distribution of foods was later supplanted to a great extent by the food stamp plan, in which regular grocery stores were used in the distribution of surplus food supplies to the needy" (p. 69, the report can be downloaded here).


Above: This picture shows lunch being served to "undernourished school children" in Charles County.  Photo provided courtesy of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.  In Maryland, the WPA served over 1.3 million school lunches (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943,  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, p. 134).

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 3.
Education

      In the 1930s there was an education problem in America:

"Many people have had to leave school early in life to earn a living.  In some rural areas the schools have been too few and too remote from the homes of many of the children whom they were supposed to serve; and in some parts of the country there have not been enough schools for Negroes.  Large numbers of elderly people, both immigrant and native, have never gone to school at all; many immigrants, unable to read and write the language of this country have been unable to obtain citizenship; and vocational training opportunities for adults have been inadequate.  Adult education of various kinds has been offered by private educational institutions, but only in a few places has it been part of the public school system.  It was to meet the needs of people unable to pay for these services, and to provide work-relief for unemployed teachers, that adult education projects were organized in 1933 under the FERA and were carried on by the WPA.  There were no fees and the classes were held in public buildings..."  The WPA met this educational need with "literacy and citizenship classes; vocational training; parent and homemaking education; workers' education; general adult education; correspondence courses; and education in avocational and leisure-time activities."  (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943,  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, pp. 60-61)

     In 1936, Aubrey Williams--Assistant Administrator for the WPA and head of the National Youth Administration--stated: "In our efforts to relieve distress we have experimented with special classes for adults.  The results have been so successful and such a demand has been created that it is difficult to see how this type of educational work can fail to find a permanent place in the field of education from now on, providing eventually for the steady employment of many teachers."  ("WPA Teacher Aid Called Blessing," Baltimore Sun, February 9, 1936, p. 6)

     By the end of 1936, there were 115 jobless teachers brought aboard the WPA's education program in Maryland, and nearly 5,000 people were enrolled in 154 classes in October of 1936.  During this same time frame, nationally, the WPA had employed "about 34,000 teachers."  ("4,924 Persons Enroll In Education Program," Baltimore Sun, December 13, 1936, p. 15)

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 4. Sewing Projects

Above: This picture was taken in the Hyattsville Armory in Prince George's County in December 1937.  It was Maryland WPA project #7703, and is described as "Dresses and toys made on sewing project."  The WPA's sewing program--designed to give jobs to unemployed women--was prolific, to say the least.  Across the country, over half a billion garments and other articles were produced.  In Maryland, over 1.9 million garments and other articles were produced.  These articles and garments were distributed to those in need.  (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943,  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, p. 134).  With respect to toys, the WPA made and repaired toys for distribution or loan (there was a sort of "toy library" system where toys could be borrowed) to children of low-income families.  For example, it was reported in December of 1940, that the WPA would, nationally, distribute about 2,000,000 toys "from its workshops to underprivileged children this Christmas" ("WPA To Distribute Toys," Baltimore Sun, December 15, 1940, p. 11).  Some probably called this a "boondoggle," but it gave jobs to unemployed folks and it certainly made Christmas a little more enjoyable for children who otherwise might not have had much, if anything, under their Christmas trees.

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 5. Book Repair

Above: The description card for this photo reads, "Maryland WPA Worker On Book Renovation Projects--Almost 800,000 public school and public library volumes have been renovated by Work Projects Administration workers in Maryland from 1935, when the program started, to January 1, 1940."


Above: The description for this photo reads, "Library Project #123...The second step in bookmending is sewing through with clamp and drill when center sections of books are broken..."  This project was at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, in 1936.


Above: The description for this photo reads, "Bookmending  Exhibit of Project 7036 (Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, Maryland) at the Fifth Annual National Folk Festival held May 6th, 7th, and 8th 1938, Constitution Hall, Washington, D.C."

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 6. Braille

Above: The description for this photo only offers, "Braille writing at Enoch Pratt Library."  However, from a Baltimore Sun article from June 13, 1938, we know that Solomon Sibel, a blind man, directed nineteen women on the WPA project to transcribe books into braille ("Blind Man Directs 38 Eyes In Braille Transcriptions," p. 16).    

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 7. Research Studies

Above: No description (other than the placard you see in the picture) came with this photo.  Across America, however, we know the WPA employed jobless "white collar" workers to conduct many types of research studies.  Some of these studies involved census records, unemployment, income taxes, public health, consumer purchases, criminal justice, and farm labor ("Over 700 Studies Under Way By WPA," Baltimore Sun, January 12, 1936, p. 16).
  
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 8. Theater


      I'm fairly certain that Maryland never participated in the WPA's Federal Theater Project, a project that employed thousands of musicians in at least "twenty-eight states, the District of Columbia and New York city" (Paul W. Ward, "Theater Chief Of WPA Leads All Producers," Baltimore Sun, August 2, 1936, p. 2).  Still, Maryland was visited by the Federal Theater Project--in the form of a Washington, D.C. vaudeville unit--on at least one occasion.  Apparently, two Citizens' Military Training Camps (CMTC's) at Fort Meade were behaving aggressively towards one another on their last day of training, and officials enlisted the aid of the vaudeville unit to keep the young men occupied (***CMTC's were programs that existed between World War I and World War II, that gave a small degree of military training to citizens).  The strategy worked, and the young C.M.T.C. men--who actually participated in some acts with the vaudeville unit--went to bed that evening happy and without incident.  ("WPA Actors Avert 'Ruction' In Camp," Baltimore Sun, August 6, 1936, p. 22).

     The Baltimore Sun article that highlighted the evening at Fort Meade, also reported that "The WPA actors, two of them women, were all on relief when they were given work by the Federal project" and that they had spent years searching for a job.  "The youngsters have been given new hope by this temporary work.  With the money they are now earning some of them are taking lessons in new routines and they have hopes of seeing Broadway's floodlights yet."  Interestingly, the article also noted that an assistant supervisor for the vaudeville group--Tefft Johnson--was involved in the early years of Hollywood (see his Internet Movie Database page here).    
       
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