Maryland and the Great Depression
The Great Depression era in American history drastically changed the lives of millions. With unemployment as high as 25%, hardships were placed on those seeking work and their families. While women found a permanent place in the work force for the first time, many families simply broke up due to the need to find work or stress brought on by the financial strain. Banks failed. Social Security began. Every aspect of life was changed for those who were affected.
The Pratt Library also has an excellent guide, The WPA and America, that contains links to sites that cover federal works projects in general.
But what about Maryland in the 1930s?
Finding work for those who were unemployed was an important role that the federal government played throughout the nation. Maryland was no exception. Many interesting labor projects were carried out in our state that supported Depression-era programs.
The Historical American Buildings Survey (HABS) documented architecture and design throughout the United States. Beginning in 1933 the HABS collection not only contains photographs of significant structures but also the researched documentation on each. The HABS collection from the Library of Congress
The HABS collection from the Library of Congress contains more than 1400 images from Maryland that were taken along with photos and descriptions from the Historic American Engineering Record and Historic American Landscape Record.
The Maryland Historical Society also has a HABS collection from their Prints and Photographs Division.
If you would like some background on HABS, try this brief 2009 article entitled “The History of HABS” from Preservation Architect, a publication of the American Institute of Architects.
Charles Carroll House, Duke of Gloucester Street, Annapolis.
HABS photo by Pickering, June 1936.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a huge program that reached millions of people. In Maryland building and roads projects took place from one end of the state to the other. You can view and read descriptions of activity at the Pratt Library’s online collection, Works Progress Administration of Maryland. There is another photo essay, Maryland in the Great Depression, on the Baltimore Sun’s website.
The records of the Works Progress Administration in Maryland can be found in the Archives of the University of Maryland Hornbake Library in College Park. Their WPA in Maryland finding aid gives all the details of the relief activities that were carried out by this agency.
The Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) was a major program begun in 1933 to provide labor to work on rural conservation and natural resources development across the U.S. It put many young men to work planting trees, building cabins and creating national parks. There are some excellent Maryland CCC websites that show the work that was carried out. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources The CCC, Roosevelt’s Tree Army in Maryland.
Catoctin Mountain Park, a national park in Maryland, also has a site on the Works Progress Administration and the CCC in Catoctin Park.
Federal Artist and Writers Programs
New Deal/WPA art in Maryland contains a list, some linked, to images of actual artwork and murals that were installed in U.S. Post Offices during the Great Depression by the Section of Fine Arts in the U.S. Treasury Department.
The Federal Writer’s Project, was responsible for producing state guides. The Maryland guide was titled Maryland, A Guide to the Old Line State and published in 1940. Copies of the original edition and the two revised editions that have followed it can be found in the Maryland Department at the Pratt Library.
The Federal Writer’s Project also interviewed ex-slaves and compiled a fascinating set of slave narratives. You can look at slave narratives from twenty Marylanders who were interviewed at the Library of Congress’ American Memory site.
One huge challenge to President Roosevelt’s New Deal plan was to find affordable housing while creating jobs. Greenbelt, Maryland was one of three planned cities that were developed by the government during the late 1930s.
In state government, Governor Harry Whinna Nice directed Maryland’s employment and relief efforts during the late 1930’s. This page from the Maryland State Archives links to a lengthy list of sources from his administration.
If you would like more information on the Great Depression, e-mail us through our
Ask A Librarian service or contact the Maryland Department or Social Science and History Department.
Enoch Pratt Free Library
Maryland’s State Library Resource Center
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201