Works Progress Administration Records
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives [Contact Us]3260 South Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19104-6324
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
During the Great Depression President Franklin D. Roosevelt developed New Deal programs to return the country to work through relief projects. The most popular of these was the Works Progress Administration because it provided work for so many Americans. Large numbers were put to work building bridges, roads, public buildings, public parks and airports with nominal salaries subsidized by the federal government. In addition, tens of thousands of artists were funded to create murals and sculpture for public buildings, write plays and music and perform their work for an arts-hungry public.
Between 1935 and 1942, the University Museum co-sponsored(with institutions such as the Fairmount Park Commission and the Pennsylvania Commission for the Fine Arts) at least eight Works Progress Administration projects as part of the State-wide Museum Assistance Program. Employee salaries for the WPA/University Museum projects were paid by the WPA; equipment, space, supplies, technical aid, and specimens were provided by the University Museum.
Projects 18369, 22831, and 23676 were each to some extent involved in amassing a bibliography of ceramics technology. In 1940, with the onset of project 23676, referred to as either the Archaeological Research Laboratory or the Archaeological Technology Laboratory, the scope of the larger bibliographic endeavor was changed to include articles of more general archaeological interest, particularly for the Eastern United States.
The total number of people employed by the WPA/University Museum projects fluctuated widely. Dr. Leonard Reisch directed the ceramics projects from their inception in 1935 through 1937, when he was succeeded by Donald Horton. Horton then served as director from January 1937 to September of 1939. Joseph Berman directed the projects from late 1939 through 1941. Dr. Vladimir J. Fewkes served as director of the bibliographic projects from their inception in 1937 to his death in November of 1941. He also briefly served as temporary head of the ceramics research projects in 1939.
Between 1935 and 1942, the University Museum co-sponsored (with institutions such as the Fairmount Park Commission and the Pennsylvania Commission for the Fine Arts) at least eight Works Progress Administration projects as part of the State-wide Museum Assistance Program. Employee salaries for the WPA/University Museum projects were paid by the WPA; equipment, space, supplies, technical aid, and specimens were provided by the University Museum.
WPA-funded work at the University Museum consisted of a number of different units of operation. Because so many of the records now available are incomplete, there may have been additional projects. Accurately representing the work that took place under the auspices of any one project is also difficult due to spotty records. As funding for one project was exhausted, another project occasionally took over as replacement, complete with ensuing changes of project name and number, regardless of similarity of purpose.
The Ceramic Technology Research Project was designed in 1935 by Mary Butler and rewritten as the proposal for the first WPA/University Museum project (number 2232). Projects 2232, 14753, and 19421 were referred to alternately as ceramics laboratories and ceramics research laboratories, and conducted similiar research. The projects conducted ceramics technology research using chemical, petrographic, and optical methods to analyze artifacts, and also conducted experimental investigations of the composition of the various clays, pigments, tempers, shrinkage properties, and of the effects of temperature and other factors important in ceramics technology. The conservation and restoration of metal, stone, ivory, and bone objects was also carried out at various points by one or another of these projects. Objects from a number of sites were analyzed, including material from Kara Tepe, Tepe Gawra, and Tell Billa in Mesopotamia; Beth Shan in Palestine; Tepe Hissar in Persia; Homolka and Starcevo in Eastern Europe; Catawba in North America; and Piedras Negras, Chipal, and Kixpec in Mesoamerica. Facilities consisted of the Ceramics Technology Laboratory housed in the University Museum, the Chemical Laboratory housed in the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and the Spectrography Department in the Physics building.
In 1979, some bibliographic material was discovered in the basement of Harrison Auditorium, but was destroyed due to its deteriorated condition. The remaining bibliographic entries have also not been kept, owing to their uselessness. Materials and records loaned to Dr. Fred Matson of Pennsylvania State University in 1949 were returned to the University Museum in 1993.
Other projects, including the Maps-Murals project (number 26506) and Museum Extension Project 26638 are documented so sparsely, that a discussion of the details of their operations is not possible. However, the Photographic Archives has a few extant images of murals being created for project 26506.
The records of the WPA/University Museum projects, as preserved in the Museum Archives, consist of personal and administrative correspondence; project proposals and outlines; project progress reports; financial status reports; personnel and payroll information; and data accumulated through the analyses undertaken by the projects. The bulk of records such as invoices, work schedules, requisitions, and packing slips have not been kept, though samples were retained. WPA forms like these, required for every activity undertaken by any project, did not contribute to the elucidation of these projects’ inner workings, though their sheer volume was notable.
Research in the WPA files may be difficult for the simple reason that despite the innumerable forms required by the agency, project numbers and names were often confused. Indeed, research goals overlapped and projects sometimes replaced one another with a change in number while retaining name. Materials and funding were also apparently shared occasionally by projects operating simultaneously.
- Jayne, Horace Howard Furness, 1898-1975
- Johnson, Eldridge Reeves, b. 1867-d. 1945
- Vaillant, George C., b.1901-d.1945
- Fairmount Park Commission (Philadelphia, Pa.).
- University of Pennsylvania. Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
- University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by M. Malta
- Finding Aid Date