History, Department of


First Advisor

Benjamin G. Rader

Date of this Version



A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College in the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: History, Under the Supervision of Professor Benjamin G. Rader. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 1980

Copyright © 1980 Richard C. Witt


Economic conditions during the 1930s caused unprecedented problems for the American people. The most obvious feature of the Depression--high unemployment--was particularly discouraging since no group of workers was spared from the realities of hard times. After experiencing relatively prosperous and comfortable lives during the Twenties, thousands of professionals and service personnel joined blue-collar workers in soup lines and charity programs.

This study concerns itself with one response the federal government made to deal with jobless white-collar personnel during the depression decade. As part of the Works Progress Administration's program to hire unemployed persons in the fields of art, music, theater, and writing, the Federal Writer's Project (FWP) was begun in 1935 to employ idle white-collar workers as researchers, writers, and editors. While this national writing program affected only a small number of the total WPA work force, for the next seven years it offered employment to several thousand white-collar workers in the United States.

Nebraska's unit of the Federal Writer's Project was one of the most successful WPA writing groups in the country, especially among those in rural states. Its history offers a wealth of information about one part of the federal “art” patronage program for relief workers during the New Deal years.

The story of the FWP in Nebraska is presented here in two stages: Part I is a chronological account of the WPA writing program in the state between 1935 and 1942; Part II offers an analysis of the personnel, programs, and publications of the Nebraska Writers’ Project in Nebraska during that period. By examining the WPA Writers’ Project in Nebraska in this manner, insight concerning the record of the FWP in a rural state should be gained. Moreover, a larger understanding of one kind of government work relief program for white-collar persons should be reached as well.

Advisor: Benjamin G. Rader