The writers were always a problem...
The Federal Writers' Project was conceived of by New Deal administrators as a part of Federal One, the common name for the four WPA arts programs (Mangione 4). In the years leading up to the creation of the FWP, professional organizations had started to petition the federal government for a project of national scope. They demanded something more appropriate to writers' training and interest than the blue-collar opportunities afforded by other WPA employment programs. A coherent plan was finally developed for a program that could offer writers a certain degree of artistic freedom without compromising the position of the government, in whose name the work would appear (Mangione 42).
The idea was for an American guidebook. The most contemporary handbook to the United States was the Baedeker guide, first published in 1893 and revised in 1909, at this point quite outdated and also Anglicized (Mangione 46). The FWP was to produce a "public Baedeker." The official announcement read:
...employment of writers, editors, historians, research workers, art critics, architects, archeologists, map draftsmen, geologists, and other professional workers for the preparation of an American Guide and the accumulation of new research material on matters of local, historical, art and scientific interest in the United States; preparation of a complete encyclopedia of government functions and periodical publications in Washington; and the preparation of a limited number of special studies in the arts, history, economics, sociology, etc., by qualified writers on relief. (Mangione 47)
The American Guide was expected to be a boon to the business community by stimulating travel, and to encourage pride in local histories and heritages (Katherine Davidson). Henry Alsberg, previously an editorial writer and foreign correspondent, was appointed Director. State directors were sought out. The project commenced on November 1st, 1935.
Juliet Gorman, May 2001