Browse Site Content

 

Descriptions and listings of the site content and research reports featured on the Great Depression in Washington State website and related Pacific Northwest Labor and Civil Rights Projects websites, organized by theme.

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, the Federal Theatre Project, and the Works Progress Administration.


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.


Who's Who

Here are short biographical sketches of two dozen political leaders, editors, artists, and activists who were influential in Washington State in the 1930s:

 

   

ECONOMICS & POVERTY: introduction

Income Tax The Banking Crisis of 1933: Seattle's Survival during the Great Depression Bank Closures, by Drew Powers

The nationwide banking crisis of 1933, brought on by corruption, customer loan defaults, and an unstable banking system brought first state-wide and then nation-wide bank closures in 1933. Seattleites developed different strategies for surviving without cash, while Roosevelt and Congress stabilized American capitalism and preserved public faith in American finance.


Income Tax Why Washington State Doesn't Have an Income Tax: The 1930s Campaign for Tax Reform and the Origins of Washington's Tax System by Nathan Riding

Washington's tax system proved inadequate to the growing needs of Washington State's infrastructure. The 1930s saw a broad-based movement for an income tax in the state, led by rural farmers in the Washington State Grange. Stiff political opposition prevented the adoption of an income tax, which it still does not have today and which constrains public spending and social services.


   

HOOVERVILLES & HOMELESSNESS: introduction

Seattle’s “Hooverville”: The Failure of Effective Unemployment Relief in the Early 1930s by Magic Demirel

"Hoovervilles," shanty towns of unemployed men, sprung up all over the nation, named after President Hoover's insufficient relief during the crisis. Seattle's developed into a self-sufficient and organized town-within-a-town.

A Tarpaper Carthage: Interpreting Hooverville, by Joey Smith

Seattle's Hooverville and its residents were portrayed as violent, exotic, and separate from the rest of Seattle, obscuring the social accomplishments and self-organization of shantytown residents.


"Nobody Paid any Attention": The Economic Marginalization of Seattle's Hooverville, by Dustin Neighly

Seattle's decision to raze Hooverville in 1941 and expel its residents relied on a discourse of "otherness" that set Hooverville economically, socially, and geographically apart.


   

STRIKES & UNIONS: introduction

Communism, Anti-Communism, and Faculty Unionization: The American Federation of Teachers' Union at the University of Washington, 1935-1948, by Andrew Knudsen

The founding of an AFT-affiliated faculty union at the University of Washington allowed faculty job security and redress during the economic crisis. Yet the radical and sometimes Communist politics of its members made the union susceptible to federal anti-Communist repression by the 1940s.


Depression-Era Civil Rights on Trial: The 1933 Battle of Congdon Orchards in the Yakima Valley," by Mike DiBernardo

The Industrial Workers of the World had led the organization of farmworkers in Washington's Yakima Valley. On August 24, 1933, strikers faced 250 farmers, organized as a militia to put down the incipient union organizing among fieldworkers.


The Seattle Press and the 1934 Waterfront Strike, by Rachelle Byarlay

The 1934 longshore strike up and down the West Coast was one of the most explosive and successful strikes during the Depression. An analysis of three Seattle newspapers here shows the shifts in news coverage for and against the strike.


The Murders of Virgil Duyungan and Aurelio Simon and the Filipino Cannery Workers' Union, by Nicole Dade

In 1936, two leaders of the Filipino Cannery Workers' and Farm Labor Union were shot to death, weakening the union but also providing the fragmented Filipino community with a cause to unite behind.


The Timber Workers' Strike of 1935: Anti-Labor Bias in The Seattle Star, by Kristin Ebeling

As the timber workers' 1935 strike became more and more controversial, The Seattle Star became less supportive in their coverage of the issue, leading workers' to develop their own newspaper.


Special Section: 1934 -- The Great Strike

A special section of the Waterfront Workers History Project, with photographs, films, research reports, and documents from the strike.


Labor's Great War on the Seattle Waterfront: A History of the 1934 Longshore Strike, by Rod Palmquist

A multi-part in-depth essay, drawing from rare archives, of the 1934 longshore strike in Seattle and Tacoma.


The 1933 Battle at Congdon Orchards, by Oscar Rosales Castañeda

The 1933 battle between organizing farmworkers and farm owners was part of a long history of farmworker organizing in Washington's Yakima Valley, as well as efforts by radicals to form unions in the region.


   

POLITICS: introduction

“To Vote Democratic, Vote Commonwealth”: The Washington Commonwealth Federation's 1936 Electoral Victory, by Drew May

The left/labor political coalition launched a 1936 electoral campaign to challenge the right wing, anti-New Deal Democrats in Washington State, as well as advocate radical propoerty redistribution and social insurance policies.


“Fascism and Its Ally, Racism”: The Complexities of the Washington Commonwealth Federation's Stance on Civil Rights, by Catherine Roth

The civil rights policies of the Washington Commonwealth Federation, a labor/left political coalition, mirrored the zigzags of the international Communist Party's politics, swerving from defending them to silence around Japanese American internment in World War II.


The New Order of Cincinnatus and the Role of Non-Partisan Conservatism in Depression-era Seattle Politics, by Emma Lunec

The conservative New Order of Cincinnatus, an anti-corruption and pseudo-fascist men's political organization, fostered conservative politicians who would revitalize the state Republican Party in the late 1930s to challenge the Democratic New Deal.

Seattle Newspapers' Support for FDR during the 1932 Election, by Nicholas Taylor

This paper analyzes the desire for political change on the cusp of FDR's election, analyzing Seattle-area newspapers.


The Rainy City on the “Wet Coast”: The Failure of Prohibition in Seattle, by Katherine Samuels

Prohibition failed to control the production, consumption, and enjoyment of alcohol in Seattle and the entire "wet coast."


   

PUBLIC WORKS: introduction

Grand Coulee Dam: Leaving a Legacy, by Christian McClung

Funding from the Works Progress Administration allowed the completion of the Grand Coulee Dam in central Washington, one of the most dramatic ways the New Deal rebuilt Washington's infrastructure.


The Town the New Deal Built: Mason City, Grand Coulee Dam, and Visions of New Deal America, by Allison Lamb

Mason City, WA was built by federal New Deal funds and private contractors to house the workers and families who were building the Grand Coulee Dam, and was consciously promoted as an example of the social vision, technological capacity, and high standard of living that New Deal America aspired to.


Map of New Deal Public Works projects, King County

An interactive map of New Deal projects in King county from 1933-1934.


Map of Major WPA Projects in Washington State

An interactive map of major New Deal construction projects in Washington State during the 1930s.


Map of Civilian Conservation Corps Camps

An interactive map of Civilian Conservation Corps camps in Washington from 1930-1939.


   

RADICALISM: introduction

Building the People's Republic in Washington State: The Washington Commonwealth Federation, Comintern Foreign Policy, and the Second World War, by Skyler Cuthill

The changes in Soviet foreign policy heavily influenced the foreign policy of the Washington Commonwealth Federation, leading to successes and losses in state politics and public influence.


The Washington Commonwealth Federation and the Washington Pension Union, by Jennifer Phipps

Washington's Communist Party was central to two broader political formations that reshaped state politics, reform, and social services.


“Fascism and Its Ally, Racism”: The Complexities of the Washington Commonwealth Federation's Stance on Civil Rights, by Catherine Roth

The civil rights policies of the Washington Commonwealth Federation, a labor/left political coalition, mirrored the zigzags of the international Communist Party's politics, swerving from defending them to silence around Japanese American internment in World War II.


The Washington Commonwealth Federation and the Japanese Boycott, 1937-1938, by Chris Kwon

The labor/radical reform coalition, the Washington Commonwealth Federation, organized an "anti-fascist" boycott against Japanese goods as part of an effort to oppose Japanese imperial expansion into China. However, this stance bled into anti-Japanese sentiment that would culminate in the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.


The Spanish Civil War and the Pacific Northwest, by Joe McArdle

Nearly seventy men volunteered to fight with the Abraham Lincoln Brigades during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1937. on the side of the democratically elected Spanish government against Franco's fascists. This paper surveys the political attitudes and backgrounds of those volunteers, with an emphasis on University of Washington students who enlisted.


“To Vote Democratic, Vote Commonwealth”: The Washington Commonwealth Federation's 1936 Electoral Victory, by Drew May

The left/labor political coalition launched a 1936 electoral campaign to challenge the right wing, anti-New Deal Democrats in Washington State, as well as advocate radical propoerty redistribution and social insurance policies.


Washington Commonwealth Builder/Washington Commonwealth, newspaper report by Jessica Dunahoo

Read a history of the newspaper of the Washington Commonwealth Federation, a left-labor-communist political coalition that reshaped state politics during the Depression.


Washington New Dealer, newspaper report by Jonathan Stecker

The New Dealer was the final paper, from 1938-1942, of the radical-labor political coalition, the Washington commonwealth Federation.


Communism, Anti-Communism, and Faculty Unionization: The American Federation of Teachers' Union at the University of Washington, 1935-1948, by Andrew Knudsen

The founding of an AFT-affiliated faculty union at the University of Washington allowed faculty job security and redress during the economic crisis. Yet the radical and sometimes Communist politics of its members made the union susceptible to federal anti-Communist repression by the 1940s.


A Worker's Republic Against Fascism: The Voice of Action's Idealized Pictures of Soviet Russia in the 1930s, by Elizabeth Poole

The Voice of Action portrayed Soviet Russia as a model for an antifascist workers' republic.


Organizing the Unemployed: The Early 1930s, by Gordon Black

As elsewhere in the country, Washington State's Communist Party helped to organize the unemployed into active political and social formations. In Washington, the Unemployed Citizen's League and its newspaper, The Vanguard, gained the state Communists a broad appeal, and integrated the unemployed into the state's radical reform coalitions.


Organizing Unions: The '30s and '40s, by Brian Grijalva

This paper traces the Washington Communist Party's attempts--and successes--in organizing unions during the 1930s and 1940s.


Harold Pritchett: Communism and the International Woodworkers of America, by Timothy Kilgren

Pritchett, a Communist, became president of the combative timber union on the West Coast, but was eventually denied re-entry to the US because of his red politics.


Self-Help Activists: The Seattle Branches of the Unemployed Citizens League by Summer Kelly

In the summer of 1931 a group of Seattle residents organized to establish self-help enterprises and demand that government officials create jobs and increase relief assistance to unemployed.


Interactive map of the Seattle Branches of the Unemployed Citizens League

This interactive map shows the Seattle locations of the the Unemployed Citizens League which established self-help commissaries and demanded jobs and relief services for the unemployed.


Vanguard and Unemployed Citizen, newspaper report by Erick Eigner

The Unemployed Citizen's League, a radical organization of unemployed men, put out two newspapers during the Depression Years.


   

Right-Wing Radicalism and Fascism:

The New Order of Cincinnatus and the Role of Non-Partisan Conservatism in Depression-era Seattle Politics, by Emma Lunec

The conservative New Order of Cincinnatus, an anti-corruption and pseudo-fascist men's political organization, fostered conservative politicians who would revitalize the state Republican Party in the late 1930s to challenge the Democratic New Deal.

The Birth of Anticommunist National Rhetoric: The Fish Committee Hearings in 1930s Seattle, by Crystal Hoffer

The Fish Committee hearings in 1930s Seattle were a preface to the anti-communist trials of the late 1940s and 1950s.


Nazism in the 1933 Seattle Times, by Michael Branscum

This paper traces the changing newspaper coverage in the Seattle Times of Hitler's rise to power, paralleling the federal government's own policies of initial support and lack of concern over reports of Nazi Germany's attacks on civil liberties.

   

Radical Newspapers:

The Voice of Action: A Paper for Workers and the Disenfranchised, by Seth Goodkind

The Voice of Action was a radical labor newspaper published in Seattle between 1933 and 1936. This paper traces its never-official links to the politics of the Communist Party and its commitments to workers and the unemployed.


A Worker's Republic Against Fascism: The Voice of Action's Idealized Pictures of Soviet Russia in the 1930s, by Elizabeth Poole

The Voice of Action portrayed Soviet Russia as a model for an antifascist workers' republic.


The Timber Workers' Strike of 1935: Anti-Labor Bias in The Seattle Star, by Kristin Ebeling

As the timber workers' 1935 strike became more and more controversial, The Seattle Star became less supportive in their coverage of the issue, leading workers' to develop their own newspaper.


Voice of Action, newspaper report by Christine B. Davies

The Voice of Action was a newspaper for Seattle's radical and labor movements, published between 1933 and 1936.


Vanguard and Unemployed Citizen, newspaper report by Erick Eigner

The Unemployed Citizen's League, a radical organization of unemployed men, put out two newspapers during the Depression Years.


Washington Commonwealth Builder/Washington Commonwealth, newspaper report by Jessica Dunahoo

Read a history of the newspaper of the Washington Commonwealth Federation, a left-labor-communist political coalition that reshaped state politics during the Depression.


Washington New Dealer, newspaper report by Jonathan Stecker

The New Dealer was the final paper, from 1938-1942, of the radical-labor political coalition, the Washington commonwealth Federation.


Philippine-American Chronicle, newspaper report by Rache Stotts-Johnson

The Chronicle was the paper of the Filipino-led cannery workers' union, as well as a source of progressive news for the Filipino and labor communities in Seattle.


Guild Daily, newspaper report by Erika Marquez

The striking employees of the Seattle Post Intelligencer, produced The Guild Daily during the 105 day strike against the Hearst-owned newspaper in 1936.


Timber Worker, newspaper report by Geraldine Carroll and Michael Moe

Born in the midst of the 1935 timber strike, the Timber Worker was the union newspaper of the International Woodworkers of America, based in Aberdeen, WA.


The Pacific Coast Longshoremen, newspaper report by Kristen Ebeling

The Longshoremen began one year after the 1934 longshore strike, as the official newspaper of the International Longshoremen's Association.


Aero Mechanic, newspaper report by Julian Laserna

The voice of Boeing workers in Local 751 of the International Association of Machinists, Aero Mechanic was founded in 1939 and has been published ever since.


Bellingham Labor News, newspaper report by Jordan Van Vleet

Established in 1939, The Bellingham Labor News was the official publication of the Bellingham Central Labor Council.  It was published weekly until 1968 when it merged with other Northwest labor newspapers to become the Northwest Washington Labor News.


   

CIVIL RIGHTS: introduction

Filipino Resistance to Anti-Miscegenation Laws in Washington State, by Corinne Strandjord

Two anti-miscegenation bills proposed during the 1930s were successfully blocked by protest and political activism among the Northwest's communities of color, including Filipino Americans.


Berry Lawson's Death and African American Civil Rights in 1930s Seattle, by Taylor Easley

The police murder of a Seattle African American man during the Depression led to a successful civil rights lawsuit in the Supreme Court.


The Washington Commonwealth Federation and the Japanese Boycott, 1937-1938, by Chris Kwon

The labor/radical reform coalition, the Washington Commonwealth Federation, organized an "anti-fascist" boycott against Japanese goods as part of an effort to oppose Japanese imperial expansion into China. However, this stance bled into anti-Japanese sentiment that would culminate in the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.


Mark M. Litchman: A Courageous Lawyer in a Time of Civil Unrest and Depression, by Kiyomi Nunez

Litchman was one of Washington's most ardent legal defenders of labor radicals and civil rights advocates. Throughout his long career he defended IWWs and other radicals while fighting for Socialism and civil rights.


“Fascism and Its Ally, Racism”: The Complexities of the Washington Commonwealth Federation's Stance on Civil Rights, by Catherine Roth

The civil rights policies of the Washington Commonwealth Federation, a labor/left political coalition, mirrored the zigzags of the international Communist Party's politics, swerving from defending them to silence around Japanese American internment in World War II.


Emerging Opportunities in Dark Times: Japanese Americans in the Northwest, 1933-1934, by Yukio Maeda

During the Depression, many Japanese Americans in the Northwest began to embrace both Japanese and American cultures, nurtured cross-cultural social life, carved out economic sectors for themselves, and created political organizations with active participation in local cities and towns.


Jewish Women in the Great Depression: Advice from the Jewish Transcript, by Pamela Schwartz

How did Jewish women in Seattle negotiate the Great Depression? An investigation of the Seattle Jewish Transcript offers some indications. The newspaper reinforced traditional understandings of women as wives and mothers while also stressing the importance of education, up to a point.


Blocking Racial Intermarriage Laws in 1935 and 1937: Seattle's First Civil Rights Coalition, by Stefanie Johnson

Two anti-miscegenation bills proposed during the 1930s were blocked by an activist coalition of African Americans, Filipino Americans, and progressives.


Responding to Anti-Semitism in the Jewish Transcript: Seattle's Jews during America's Great Depression, by Stephanie Fajardo

Seattle's Jewish community sought out several strategies for responding to Anti-Semitism during the Great Depression through their newspaper.


Be Good Americans: The Message of The Japanese-American Courier, by Roxana Johnson

The second generation of Japanese immigrants, the Japanese American Nisei, used civic organizations and Seattle's ethnic newspapers to create a fully American identity for themselves in response to anti-Asian sentiment.


Working Women at UW series:

Depression-era labor policies did not allow married women to hold jobs, favoring a husband's work. Prof. Lea Miller at the UW was fired, and sparked a national protest over the policy.

• Part 1:Lea Miller's Protest: Married Women's Jobs at the University of Washington, by Claire Palay
• Part 2: Married Women's Right to Work: "Anti-Nepotism" Policies at the University of Washington during the Depression, by Katharine Edwards

Cannery Worker's and Farm Laborer's Union 1933-1939: Their Strength in Unity, by Crystal Fresco

Read the history of the first Filipino-led labor union in the United States, based in Seattle.


Race and Civil Rights in the Washington State Communist Party in the 1930s and 1940s, by Shelley Pinckney

This paper traces the civil rights campaigns of the Washington State Communist Party during the Depression years.


Victorio Velasco, Pioneer Filipino American Journalist, by Erik Luthy

Velasco was the central figure in Filipino American journalism in the Northwest. This paper traces his political evolution toward progressive politics.


Black Longshoremen: The Frank Jenkins Story, by Megan Elston

Frank Jenkins was one of the first non-white members of the ILWU, and advocated for increased civil rights within the labor movement.


Revels Cayton: African American Communist and Labor Activist, by Sarah Falconer

Revels Cayton was the most prominent African American communist, labor leader, and activist in the Northwest during the 1930s and 1940s.


   

UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON: introduction

Depression-era Huskies: Student Life and School Spirit during the Great Depression, by Annie Walsh

Student life during the Depression was changed by budget cuts and tuition rates, yet there was a thriving athletic, social, and cultural atmosphere on campus.


Communism, Anti-Communism, and Faculty Unionization: The American Federation of Teachers' Union at the University of Washington, 1935-1948, by Andrew Knudsen

The founding of an AFT-affiliated faculty union at the University of Washington allowed faculty job security and redress during the economic crisis. Yet the radical and sometimes Communist politics of its members made the union susceptible to federal anti-Communist repression by the 1940s.

Challenging Gender Stereotypes during the Depression: Female Students at the University of Washington, by Nicolette Flannery

Female students in the 1930s challenged accepted ideas of women's education, participation in college athletics, and domestic and social responsibilities.


Working Women at UW series:

Depression-era labor policies did not allow married women to hold jobs, favoring a husband's work. Prof. Lea Miller at the UW was fired, and sparked a national protest over the policy.

• Part 1:Lea Miller's Protest: Married Women's Jobs at the University of Washington, by Claire Palay
• Part 2: Married Women's Right to Work: "Anti-Nepotism" Policies at the University of Washington during the Depression, by Katharine Edwards

The Spanish Civil War and the Pacific Northwest, by Joe McArdle

Nearly seventy men volunteered to fight with the Abraham Lincoln Brigades during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1937. on the side of the democratically elected Spanish government against Franco's fascists. This paper surveys the political attitudes and backgrounds of those volunteers, with an emphasis on University of Washington students who enlisted.


   

CULTURE AND THE ARTS: introduction

Ronald Ginther Watercolors

Ginther produced more than 80 paintings. They are a unique resource, depicting the rough life of Hoovervilles and homeless men, of jails and soup kitchens, unemployed demonstrations and police attacks, strikes and radical protests.


The Power of Art and the Fear of Labor: Seattle's Production of Waiting for Lefty in 1936, by Selena Voelker

The Jameses founded the Seattle Repertory Playhouse and played a crucial role in the development of the Federal Theatre Project in the state, as well as reimagining the role of theatre in Washington.


Escape to the Movies: Seattle Cinema in the Great Depression, by Andrea Kaufman

Movie houses found a variety of ways to bring people to the cinema during the Depression, from special bargain nights and promotions to new escapistf film genres.


When Hollywood Went to Washington: Film's Golden Age in the Evergreen State by Zachary Keeler

Hollywood and Washington State formed a mutually beneficial relationship during the 1930s, as Hollywood films brought tourism and job opportunities to Washington and used its settings to portray the Alaskan Yukon or to stand in for the rural West.


Jazz on Jackson Street: The Birth of a Multiracial Musical Community in Seattle, by Kaegan Faltys-Burr

Seattle's jazz scene flourished in the 1920s and 1930s, particularly in the multiracial neighborhood culture of the Central District and Jackson St.


Dorothea Lange essay series:

Social Documentary photography Dorothea Lange visited Washington's Yakima Valley in 1939 to chronicle rural farm life and migrant families during the Depression.

• Part 1: Dorothea Lange's Social Vision: Photography and the Great Depression, by Emily Yoshiwara
• Part 2: Dorothea Lange in the Yakima Valley: Rural Poverty and Photography, by Stephanie Whitney

Dorothea Lange's Yakima Valley Photograph Gallery
Richard Correll and the Woodcut Graphics of the Voice of Action, by Brian Grijalva

Seattle's Communist Party newspaper relied on woodcut artist Richard Correll for many of its illustrations. Correll art was stark and unforgettable. He could narrate a strike or detail a militant political position in a single 4 inch by 5 inch image.


 

EVERYDAY LIFE: introduction

Bellingham Families during the Depression: Changes in Everyday Life by Annie Morro

Whatcom County residents developed new social and familial roles in response to economic hardship.

Murders, Gambling, and Suicides: Crime in Seattle during the Depression, by Sarah Lawrence

Crime was one way Seattle residents dealt with the Great Depression.


The 1932 Seattle Sports Scene: Helping the Emerald City through Hard Times, by Brian Harris

Seattle rallied around its sports teams and prospective Olympic athletes as a symbol of community life and leisure during the Depression, despite loss of funds for many sports programs.


Changing Advertising Trends in the Seattle Times During the Great Depression, by Yifeng Hua

A statistical sample of consumer advertising from 1928-1935 in the Seattle Times.


Emerging Opportunities in Dark Times: Japanese Americans in the Northwest, 1933-1934, by Yukio Maeda

During the Depression, many Japanese Americans in the Northwest began to embrace both Japanese and American cultures, nurtured cross-cultural social life, carved out economic sectors for themselves, and created political organizations with active participation in local cities and towns


The Rainy City on the “Wet Coast”: The Failure of Prohibition in Seattle, by Katherine Samuels

Prohibition failed to control the production, consumption, and enjoyment of alcohol in Seattle and the entire "wet coast."


Responding to Anti-Semitism in the Jewish Transcript: Seattle's Jews during America's Great Depression, by Stephanie Fajardo

Seattle's Jewish community sought out several strategies for responding to Anti-Semitism during the Great Depression through their newspaper.


The Town the New Deal Built: Mason City, Grand Coulee Dam, and Visions of New Deal America, by Allison Lamb

Mason City, WA was built by federal New Deal funds and private contractors to house the workers and families who were building the Grand Coulee Dam, and was consciously promoted as an example of the social vision, technological capacity, and high standard of living that New Deal America aspired to.

Life in Raymond Washington During the Early Years of the Great Depression, 1929-1933 by Jacob Monson

Like other resource dependent communities in Washington State, the town of Raymond struggled during the Great Depression. A local newspaper, the Raymond Advertiser, chronicled the challenges of the 1930's, while also striving to maintain optimism and consumer confidence among local residents.

Kitsap County The Great Depression in Kitsap County, 1929-1932 , by Lauren Champa

During the early years of the Great Depression, many communities in Washington State and across the nation struggled to survive economically. In Kitsap County, however, residents were able to rely upon a network of strong local businesses as well as a productive agricultural sector to help weather the finacial storm.

VISUAL ARTS: introduction

Federal Art Project in Washington State

The most ambitious of the New Deal visual arts programs, the Federal Art Project emphasized work relief for artists as well as public education and documentation of folk traditions. In Washington State, it employed dozens of men and women in diverse pursuits such as easel painting, mural painting, sculpture, teaching, model making and more.

Public Works of Art Project in Washington State

The first visual arts program launched during the Great Depression, the Public Works of Art Project employed more than 3,000 artists nationwide including 50 in Washington State. It established an important precedent regarding federal government support for the arts and served as a model for later initiatives.


Post Office Murals and Art for Federal Buildings: The Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture in Washington State

Centrally managed by the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. the Section commissioned thousands of murals, wood carvings and sculptures for public buildings, including post offices, court houses and federal agency headquarters in the capital. As a result of its presence in small and large communities, this program's work is perhaps the best known of any New Deal visual arts initiative.

New Deal Post Office Murals in Washington State

This google interactive map marks the location of the 18 Washington State post offices that housed art commissioned by the Section. Common motifs include agriculture, logging and western history, featuring images of both Euro-American settlers and Native peoples. For more information on the Treasury program, please see the research report "The Section of Painting and Sculpture in Washington State,"

The Spokane Art Center: Bringing Art to the People

In addition to providing gainful employment to thousands of unemployed artists, the Federal Art Project (FAP) also stressed art education through community art centers as one of its primary objectives. One of the most successful sites, hosting lthousands of visitors and hundreds of classes, was located in Spokane, Washington.


THEATRE ARTS: introduction

Federal Theatre Project in Washington State, by Sarah Guthu

The FTP in Washington was one of the most vibrant in the country, including the Negro Repertory Unit, Living Newspaper theatre journalism, a Children's Unit, and hosted traveling productions to New Deal public works programs around the state.


Seattle's Negro Repertory Company:

Outside of New York City, Washington's FTP hosted the only all-African American company in the nation, who produced three plays: Stevedore, about a longshore strike; an all-black production of Lysistrata, which was closed down for its "scandalous" scenes; and a production written by the Negro Unit based on the life of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.


Stevedore (1936)

This play about a longshoremen's strike brought white and black actors together onstage to portray the tenuous racial solidarities produced by labor struggle, and brought the fledgling NRC national recognition.


Lysistrata (1937)

The NRC developed an all-African American production of Aristophanes' classic political comedy, which produced a controversy between the national and local Federal Theatre Project leadership, and also displayed the paternalistic approach FTP officials held toward the Negro Repertory Company.

An Evening with Dunbar (1938)

NRC members collaboratively developed this production, based on the life of poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar.


The Jameses and the Playhouse, by Sarah Guthu

The Jameses founded the Seattle Repertory Playhouse and played a crucial role in the development of the Federal Theatre Project in the state, as well as reimagining the role of theatre in Washington.


The Power of Art and the Fear of Labor: Seattle's Production of Waiting for Lefty in 1936, by Selena Voelker

The Jameses founded the Seattle Repertory Playhouse and played a crucial role in the development of the Federal Theatre Project in the state, as well as reimagining the role of theatre in Washington.


Living Newspapers:

These productions combined theatre with journalism, and brought regional controversies to life, including battles over public and private power; the regulation of syphilis; and immigration.


Power (1937)

This Living Newspaper production, dramatizing New Deal debates between private and publicly-owned utilities, resonated with Seattle residents who were debating between the private Puget Power Company and the public Seattle City Light.


One-Third of a Nation (1938)

The Washington Federal Theatre Project's longest-running production, a Living Newspaper, advocated for government-sponsored housing.



Spirochete (1939)

This Living Newspaper presented the history of syphilis and intervened in debates about venereal disease prevention in Seattle.