Depression-era interviews of 700 Arizonans preserved

[Source: Richard Ruelas, Arizona Republic] — The Works Progress Administration, a government public-works program started during the Great Depression, didn’t just leave Arizona with canals and sidewalks.  It also preserved some personal human history.  The project yielded oral histories of about 700 residents, most of whom were elderly when they were interviewed in the 1930s.  Consider them slices of government-funded history.

The WPA, later renamed the Work Projects Administration, was part of the New Deal that President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted during the Great Depression.  It included projects such as those canals and sidewalks.  But writers needed jobs, too.  So did teachers, librarians, artists, and other white-collar workers.  But according to the Web site of the Library of Congress, there was a belief that these folks might not make good bricklayers.  So the government launched the Federal Writers’ Project.  Part of its mission was to document life histories.  The project lasted from 1935 to 1939, before federal funding was yanked.

Melanie Sturgeon, director of Arizona’s History and Archives Division, said most of the interviews were done by the time federal funding dried up.  “By the time 1939 was over,” she said, “they were just cleaning (the interviews) up.”  Twelve boxes containing interviews are stored in the new Polly Rosenbaum Archives and History Building in downtown Phoenix.  The material is available for viewing in the archives center, just west of the State Capitol.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

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