Dakota Datebook

Civil Works

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Created in 1933, the Civil Works Administration was established under the President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program to create jobs for millions of unemployed Americans. Though temporary, the jobs were a God-send for many Americans during the Depression.
Roosevelt unveiled the CWA on November 8, 1933, with Harry L. Hopkins in charge. Roosevelt hoped that his New Deal would allow Americans to cope with the Great Depression, help end the economic downturn and help prevent any future depressions.
The CWA’s purpose was to hire workers, both men and women, to assist in the creation of public projects. It was to focus on the repair or construction of public buildings, roadways and parks. It created many construction jobs and, in just one year, had cost the Federal government over $1 billion. It was soon cancelled and replaced on April 1, 1934, under the Federal Emergency Relief Act.
On March 1 of that year, Harry Hopkins took over the federal relief program in North Dakota, removing it from the state emergency relief committee to the U.S. program that was reorganized into the Public Welfare Board, the Resettlement Administration and the Works Progress Administration.
The WPA (also called the Work Projects Administration) provided work relief to employable people, other than farmers because they were covered under the Resettlement Administration. By October 1936, nearly 61,000 people were employed on WPA projects, emergency conservation work and projects of other agencies.
In North Dakota alone, between July 1, 1935, and June 30, 1942, the WPA, often working with the Civilian Conservation Corps, built over 20,000 miles of highways and streets, 721 new bridges and viaducts, more than 150 miles of sidewalks, 503 new public buildings, 680 outdoor recreational facilities, 39 sewage treatment plants and 9 water treatment plants. It reconstructed 1,002 bridges and viaducts, over 2,000 public buildings and more than 1,700 culverts.
In addition to building projects, the WPA workers also repaired books, served school lunches, sewed garments, distributed surplus commodities, conducted literacy classes and operated salvage programs. Working with the CCC, new parks were developed or expanded, and many North Dakota historic sites were improved, such as Fort Abraham Lincoln, Lake Metigoshe, Fort Abercrombie and many others.
The Historical Data Project was a WPA program designed to preserve the rich history of the U.S. by gathering biographical and historical information from North Dakota’s early settlers. Under the direction of Ethel Schlasinger, the WPA supported the Federal Writers’ Project, North Dakota: A Guide to the Northern Prairie State, published in 1938.
In total, the federal government spent about $266 million in North Dakota from 1933 through 1940. The WPA in North Dakota ended on February 1, 1943.
The work was of tremendous importance in the state, not only for immediate survival in terms of jobs during the Depression, but also for the enjoyment we continue to get from many of those projects today.

by Cathy A. Langemo
WritePlus Inc.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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