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Useful Works and Damn Good Projects:

An Overview of the WPA in Smith County, Texas

Samantha Winn

on 24 September 2012

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Transcript of Useful Works and Damn Good Projects:

The Great Depression State of the Nation Unemployment at 25% Agriculture collapsing Industry in turmoil Loss of confidence Agriculture was devastated Drought Dust storms Driving rains Record snowstorm Boll weevils Smith County relied on two crops Cotton Tomato Work was scant Farmers reduced to sharecropping Wages plummeted for skilled workers in government (until...) Neighboring communities
had enjoyed oil wealth since the 1920s. The East Texas oil field covers 140,000 acres.
It is the most productive field in the United States
outside of Alaska. By 1944, it had produced
2,103,173,790 barrels. 22% of county factories closed Flood of migrant workers and transients One union dropped from $8 per day to $6 per week within a year. Between 1929 and 1933, production values fell nearly $2 million Over 20,000 transients descended on Tyler looking for work. Texas governor declared martial law on oil fields. Texas Rangers were sent in to enforce production caps, which were highly unpopular. Smith County Industry Rebounds Dairy farmers Tyler Milk Products Company Bought by Borden Milk Co. in 1943 Sears-Roebuck Local branch was the only store in the nation to earn a profit in 1936. Bergfeld Park Ampitheater Additional Industries Brick and stone products Machinery Clothing and other textiles Iron But.... Not Enough Smith County On Relief Adjacent counties reported similar rates.
Smith County fared better
than its oil producing neighbors. In two nearby counties (Titus and Cass) over 40% of county residents relied on direct relief. Represents about 7,000 individuals > 50% were farm operators and laborers 1,400 families in March 1935 Local Relief Efforts East Texas Unemployment Relief Committee Chamber of Commerce Community Chest American Legion Red Cross Texas Relief Commission Established by Governor Ma Ferguson in 1932 In 1929 alone... March 30, 1931
Guy Vernon sinks first
productive well in Smith County CCC FERA NIRA ...................................................... March 21, 1932 May 12, 1932 June 16, 1933 Title I Title II Standardize industry practices and codes Protect laborers Initially, Tyler businesses
strongly endorsed the NRA Provide jobs Improve the nation's
infrastructure In Smith County, these new codes
helped to end martial law in the oil fields. PWA Large scale projects Often required skilled labor But there were some problems... Administrative delays No effect on relief rolls November 9, 1933 CWA This lead to the creation of a new public works agency... Harry Hopkins Harold Ickes ......under Harry Hopkins...... Trinity Mother Frances Hospital Advantages over
the PWA More people to process claims Did not require matching funds
from the project sponsor Workers did not have to submit
to a "means" test (more projects approved, faster) Created as a temporary agency to alleviate relief rolls
during the winter of 1933 By 1934, the NRA had fallen
out of favor with Texas businessmen The Supreme Court unanimously
struck down the NRA in 1935 The NRA: Governing Arm of Title I Brought state collaboration and federal aid money
to local relief agencies High burden on state and municipal sponsors Emergency (adult) education College student aid Rural rehabilitation Transient relief Specialized Programs * Texas received the first
"unmatched" grants
from the government * Texas employed the largest number
of workers in the country
during the first two months. Employed over 4 million
men and women
during the most critical months Smith County 1900 jobs were created in January 1934 County relief payrolls in March 1934
increased from
$5727.18 per week to $9000. January 1934 - March 1934 Projects Sanitary toilets for rural areas Wood chopped/distributed to needy families Adult education courses Rodents trapped Carnegie Public Library murals The "1st"
New Deal The WPA Began as the Works Progress Division Established as an independent entity by executive order, May 6, 1935 Chief Administrator: Harry Hopkins 11 million Americans remained unemployed.
Roosevelt wanted to create a more permanent (and more efficient) public works program. Created to handle projects under $25,000 Hopkins was authorized to appropriate
larger projects from the PWA
if his administration could remove
more workers from relief rolls (no proof.... but it did work) Tyler was the first city
in the country
to receive PWA funds
for a hospital. Projects received swift approval Advantages of the WPA Sponsors were only responsible
for equipment, materials,
and limited services More workers actively
employed Projects tended to be
more labor intensive
while requiring
fewer specialized skills Worker requirements Demonstrate employability and need One person per household Voluntarily relinquish Social Security benefits Register with the U.S. Employment Services Mothers who acted as primary caretakers for their children
Those unable to work due to old age, mental/physical handicaps
People in penal/correctional institutions
Illegal aliens
Minors WPA provided jobs for
up to 40% of all
unemployed workers
at its peak. Case workers could not turn
someone down on the basis of
race, religion, or political affiliation. The NYA Est. June 1935 by executive order Financial aid for students
with extenuating needs Part-time work for youths from
relief families on PWA and WPA projects Smith County Smith County becomes a hub for relief agencies Headquarters in Smith County In 1937, District 2 was consolidated with an adjacent district. Headquarters moved to Marshall, Texas. Texas was one of the major recipients of federal aid In 1936 alone,
Texas employed 123,041
(exceeding state quotas) Texas led the nation in youth employment
on NYA and WPA projects The Texas branch was directed
by Lyndon B. Johnson Texas had its strongest congressional delegations in decades Including more than a few East Texans House Rep. Morgan "Barefoot" Sanders (Canton) Third highest member
House Ways &Means Committee Agency of Community Sanitation
and Malarial Control NYA, East Texas region Civilian Conservation Corps (district) Texas Relief Commission WPA, District No. 2 Included Smith, Nacogdoches, Cherokee, Gregg, Rusk,
Panol, Angelina, Shelby, San Augustine, and Sabine Smith County also had allies at the state relief level Head of the Texas Relief Commission
Carl Estes Within one year of its creation,
Smith County received over
$110,000 from the TRC Participation in State Programs Smith County took part in 22 of 29 statewide initiatives Rapid results By December 1935, County relief rolls had dropped
from 1400 cases to 16 Smith County actually had to borrow workers
from other counties In January 1936, Smith County's district
employed nearly 4000 workers Historical Records Survey Adult Education initiatives Nursery Schools Public Health and Nursing Projects Labor study for the Dictionary
of Occupational Titles Recreation projects Ground water survey environmental health initiatives social work projects sewing rooms surplus commodity distribution household worker training housekeeping aide projects canning projects A mattress workshop
(in Louisiana) (Louisiana) This was our sewing room...
it is now juror parking. (Louisiana) These drainage ditches
wind through the backyards of
the Azalea district.

They were built to control
mosquitoes. The Carnegie Public Library
(now home of the Smith County Historical Society)
worked with state agents to archive
municipal and church records. Participation in National Initiatives Federal One Federal Writers' Project The American Guide Series Talking Book Machines A program for blind individuals who could care for the machine. The first machines distributed in Smith County ran on electricity. Later (more expensive) models used hand cranks. Records were shipped from Austin. Unique Programs Infrastructure Education Recreation Roads Bridges City Hall Tyler Municipal Airport Schools Hogg Underpass Sewers Fun Forest Municipal Rose Fair Park Mike Carter Field Tyler Rose Garden East Texas Fair Grounds NYA Smith County Rural Library Bellwood Lake Scrap Program Camp Ford Oakwood Cemetery Misc. Paving and gravelling county roads Brick streets in the Azalea District Improving streets and intersections downtown Native rock was very common in local
WPA projects because project sponsors
were responsible for supplying materials. One official declared this the "most important project in the state". During its construction in 1939 and 1940, this was the largest project of its type in the state. City Park Spring pond The main library operated out of the grand jury room All books and magazines were donated by the community 14 rural branches made books and magazines
available to distant schools and homes Louisiana NYA workers binding books Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn (Bonham) "Useful Works and Damn Good Projects" An Overview of the Works Progress Administration in Smithy County, Texas Meanwhile, in Smith County > $26 million today Oil 55% of the funds unemployable groups Smith County participated in a rural scrap metal drive. WPA workers collaborated with area farmers to collect unwanted equipment on designated days.

The workers rode in trucks with signs reading:
"Works Progress Administration:
We Want Your Scrap to Beat the Japs" Oklahoma WPA workers unloading scrap metal
Full transcript