Unique WPA Works Progress Administration Job – Librarians on Horseback
Feb 17, 2019
Vicki’s note – The United States Great Depression required creative wide-ranging ideas to address the loss of jobs. The Works Progress Administration was an American New Deal agency, created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, employing millions of people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects. One of the more unique solutions to getting women jobs, was to pay them to be librarians on horseback. They were called book women, but served the role of librarians in the Appalachians.
Those women must have worked very hard, and found great satisfaction.
Records of the Work Projects Administration [WPA] are in the NARA National Archives Records Administration for this job and others.
You can also look under their “History Hub” to seek records by topic:
NARA’s answer to a search on History Hub question about PA WPA records and photographs of projects was:
“There is a list available on microfilm that lists WPA projects in all states. This list is available from us as three microfilm publications. The publications are broken down into three separate indexes known as the T-935, T-936, and T-937 indexes. T-935 covers the years 1935 to 1937. T-936 covers 1938 only. T-937 covers 1939 to 1942. Each index is arranged alphabetically by state and thereunder by county, and thereunder by municipality. Blair County, Pennsylvania, would be on T-935 roll 57, T-936 roll 11, and T-937 roll 14.
You also may first wish to check with the state archives and other colleges and universities in the state to see if they already have copies of these indexes.
You can also view these rolls in the Microfilm Reading Room at our College Park, Maryland, facility. Please see: https://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/college-park for more information on doing research in College Park.
Our regional archive in Philadelphia does not have copies of these rolls of microfilm.
National Archives microfilm publications are available on microfilm or to be digitized and placed on a DVD for $125 per roll/disk. There is a form you can use to request copies of microfilm available online at: https://www.archives.gov/files/research/order/microfilm-order-form.pdf You can send in the NATF Form 36 with your payment. If you wish to pay by using a MasterCard or VISA credit card, you should return the form (noting type of credit card, account number, expiration date, and your signature) to the National Archives Trust Fund, Cashier (BCT), 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740. Your account will be verified before the rolls/DVDs are shipped. Alternatively, you may order online by going to: http://www.archives.gov/shop/ and clicking on “Request & Order Reproductions Online.” Select “microfilm.” You can type in the microfilm publication number, such as T936, and click on “search.” A listing of the publication title(s) will appear. Click on the name of the publication. That will take you to a summary page. On the right hand side of the page will be a pdf file. Click on “View Important Publication Details.” to view the contents of the microfilm rolls. In the middle of the summary page, you can click on “Continue to Order” to purchase the rolls in which you are interested.
For photos of WPA projects, you will want to contact our Still Pictures unit. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org “
The book women article from ALA American Library Association magazine quotes an article from Atlas Obscura:
Below are excepts. You can read the whole article here.
They were known as the “book women.” They would saddle up, usually at dawn, to pick their way along snowy hillsides and through muddy creeks with a simple goal: to deliver reading material to Kentucky’s isolated mountain communities.
The Pack Horse Library initiative was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), created to help lift America out of the Great Depression, during which, by 1933, unemployment had risen to 40 percent in Appalachia. Roving horseback libraries weren’t entirely new to Kentucky, but this initiative was an opportunity to boost both employment and literacy at the same time….
(The libraries accepted) …”donations of books and magazines regardless of how old or worn they may be.”…
Old magazines and newspapers were cut and pasted into scrapbooks with particular themes—recipes, for example, or crafts… old Christmas cards were circulated to use as bookmarks and prevent damage from dog-eared pages.”
“…In addition to providing reading materials, the book women served as touchstones for these communities. They tried to fill book requests, sometimes stopped to read to those who couldn’t, and helped nurture local pride. As one recipient said, “Them books you brought us has saved our lives.”..”