The Great Depression first shattered and then rebuilt the economy of Washington State, leaving it with roads, bridges, dams, and a new electric grid that set the stage for rapid industrial growth. It rearranged the state's politics, ending decades of Republican rule, setting up a powerful labor movement, a new Democratic Party, and a new set of political priorities. It ended prohibition and launched new cultural institutions. It saw the creation of parks and trails and the realization of a long struggle to create the Olympic National Park. By the end of the 1930s, Washington was a different place, its future beginning to come clear even before World War II turned the state into an aerospace center and industrial powerhouse.

The Great Depression in Washington State Project is a multimedia website that explores this important decade. Here you will find detailed accounts of issues, incidents, institutions, and people, along with hundreds of photographs, documents, and news articles from the period. This site is one of a collection of Pacific Northwest Labor and Civil Rights Projects based at the University of Washington in Seattle, which involve undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and community members.

Tour the Project

History Start with a concise historical narrative of the Great Depression in Washington State in ten brief illustrated chapters.

Economics and Poverty The crash of 1929 led to business failures, Hoovervilles, and the self-organization of the unemployed. Recovery began in 1933.

Strikes and Unions Washington was a flashpoint for labor organizing, from Seattle's docks to the Yakima fruit orchards and the timber camps of Western Washington.

Radicalism As leftists became influential in Washington's politics and labor movement, they contended with anti-Communist and sometimes fascist groupings.

Civil Rights The social unrest of the 1930s led to new opportunities--and challenges--for communities of color and civil rights struggles.

University of Washington From faculty unions and student politics to new campus parks, the Depression changed the state's premiere university.

Politics Washington State underwent a sea change as the Democratic Party became dominant and radicals and New Deal reformers pushed politics to the left.

Culture and the Arts The Depression and New Deal arts funding produced radically new ways of seeing, representing, and understanding

Everyday Life The ways people lived and understood their lives were transformed by the crisis.

Public Works New Deal public works programs literally rebuilt Washington State, from the Grand Coulee Dam to Seattle's neighborhood libraries.

Browse Content

Here is a complete inventory of illustrated research reports on events, people, and issues during the Great Depression in Washington State.


Theatre Arts

This extensive section includes photographs and detailed accounts of the history, productions, and impact of the Federal Theatre Project in Washington State, including the Negro Repertory Company, Florence and Burton James, the Federal Theatre Project, the Seattle Repertory Playhouse.

Visual Arts

The New Deal reshaped the role of artists and brought art to new publics. This section details the history of the New Deal programs that produced post office murals and other public art. View artworks and read profiles of artists like Richard Correll and Dorothea Lange.

Interactive Media

Maps View interactive maps depicting public works projects, Hoovervilles, Civilian Conservation Corps camps, and murals produced in the state during the New Deal.

Photographs & Films Browse collections of photographs, paintings, newsreels, and films chronicling the Depression years, including photographs from Dorothea Lange in the Yakima Valley, images of hoovervilles, strikes, and WPA projects.

Major Events Timeline Browse an interactive timeline of the Great Depression years, comparing Washington State events to national and political events.

Labor Events Yearbook Explore a day-by-day database of more than 600 strikes, protests, campaigns, and labor political initiatives occurring in the state of Washington from 1930 through 1938, culled from state labor newspapers.