Sewing for the Works Progress Administration, 1936

Found photo

In the US, most of us have probably come across a bridge or a trail that was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Depression Era government sponsored employment agency.  Not only did the program build bridges and sponsor arts programs, it also put women to work sewing.  The participants were taught to use sewing machines and and then tasked to make clothing, bedding, and other items that were distributed to hospitals and charities.  The Milwaukee Handicraft Project, which included sewing, rug making, and textile design, is particularly well documented. 

This 1936 photo shows a racially integrated group of women hard at work.  From their faces, it looks like that they range in ages from their thirties at least up into their sixties.  You get the best view of their work when looking at the African American woman at the center of the photo.  She appears to be constructing either a full apron or a house dress. 

These women were likely the main providers for themselves and their families—single women, widows, or wives of husbands who were unable to work.  They are all dressed neatly in simple dresses, some with aprons.  Four women have on identical white dresses and caps. Were they perhaps nurses or members of a religious order? 

I would love to know the story of the oldest looking woman in the photo, third from the left in the second row.  While most of the other women have their hair in stylish short waves, she wears her gray tresses pulled back into a bun.  Her round granny glasses also mark her as older than her sewing companions.  She is hard at work at a time in her life when many others might have hoped to take it easy. 

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