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Berkeley and the New Deal

Berkeley and the New Deal

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Berkeley and the New Deal

206 pages
46 minutes
Oct 13, 2014


Berkeley s 1930s and early 1940s New Deal structures and projects left a lasting legacy of utilitarian and beautiful infrastructure. These public buildings, schools, parks, and artworks helped shape the city and thus the lives of its residents; it is hard to imagine Berkeley without them. The artists and architects of these projects mention several themes: working for the community, responsibility, the importance of government support, collaboration, and creating a cultural renaissance. These New Deal projects, however, can be called hidden history because their legacies have been mostly ignored and forgotten. Comprehending the impact of the New Deal on one American city is only possible when viewed as a whole. Berkeley might have gotten a little more or a little less New Deal funding than other towns, but this time it wasn t Bezerkeley but very much typical and mainstream. More than history, this book shows the period s relevance to today s social, political, and economic realities. The times may again call for comprehensive public policy that reaches Main Street.
Oct 13, 2014

À propos de l'auteur

Harvey L. Smith has been researching this part of Berkeley�s history for more than two decades. The images in this volume have been selected from local and national archives and from the author�s contemporary photographs of the living legacy of the New Deal.

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Berkeley and the New Deal - Harvey L. Smith



In the 1920s, the United States economy was booming, but there was a wide gap in income between rich and poor Americans, just as now. Then, the economic collapse began with the 1929 stock market crash. The ensuing Great Depression left millions unemployed. There was no social safety net—no bank deposit insurance, no unemployment insurance, no social security.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, accepting the nomination of his party in 1932, pledged a new deal for the American people. Later, he would state, The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. This statement sums up the direction of the New Deal: Main Street before Wall Street. But then, just as now, the political Right vigorously opposed Main Street progress.

People may argue over statistics about what the New Deal accomplished, but two things are needed to understand it clearly: first, that people who participated in or benefitted from the New Deal tell the real, firsthand story; and second, that the New Deal’s physical legacy still surrounds us (mostly unrecognized) as buildings, bridges, roads, and public art—a visual landscape that we enjoy and depend on today.

In the first Hundred Days of FDR’s administration, 15 major pieces of legislation were passed to address the problems created by the economic collapse. Among this so-called alphabet soup of programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which ultimately employed 3.5 million unemployed youth and planted 3 billion trees. Another program gave long-term mortgage loans to some one million homeowners to prevent foreclosure. The Glass-Steagall Act separated commercial and investment banking and established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to insure customers’ deposits in banks and thrift institutions. The Public Works Administration (PWA) built massive infrastructure projects, such as dams, bridges, and schools.

After the Hundred Days, a myriad of other federal programs were created. Because regulating corporate excesses was critical, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was established to oversee stock market trading. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was formed to maintain electronic communications in the public interest.

Thousands of families were provided housing in both urban and rural areas. One of these programs, the Farm Security Administration (FSA), also hired photographers—including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, and others—to document the conditions of drought-stricken and financially ruined farm families.

Putting people to work in decent conditions and protecting them on the job were critical. The National Youth Administration (NYA) hired high school and college students for work-study and part-time work and provided vocational training and programs for out-of-school youth. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), also known as the Wagner Act, gave workers the right to organize and bargain collectively with employers over working conditions, benefits, and wages. A crowning social policy achievement of the New Deal was the creation of the Social Security Administration. In addition to welfare provisions, it created a social insurance program for retired workers age 65 and older and provided for unemployment insurance.

The first federal art program, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), was started in 1933. Later, the Treasury Department established two programs to adorn federal buildings by commissioning artists through a competitive process (known as the Section) and by directly hiring artists on relief (known as the Treasury Relief Art Project). Under the Section of Painting and Sculpture, artists signed contracts under the direction of the secretary of the treasury for the United States of America. The artists’ work became property of the United States on behalf of the American people.

Probably the best-known New Deal program was established in 1935. The Works Progress Administration (administered by Harry Hopkins) hired 8.5 million people and built thousands of schools, parks, city halls, public libraries, recreational fields, streets, highways, sewers, airports, utilities, and more. The WPA/Federal Art Project included art, writing, theater, music, and history projects, much of which celebrated the dignity of work and working people. Many artists thought of this period as a new flowering of American art. Outspoken San Francisco sculptor Benny Bufano declared that the WPA/FAP has laid the foundation of a renaissance of art in America.

Overall, the impact of the New Deal in the United States dwarfs any of the recent stimulus programs. Its massive investment in employment and infrastructure moved the country to true recovery. Note just some of its accomplishments: the Civilian Conservation Corps employed over 3 million and planted 3 billion trees; the short-lived Civil Works Administration employed 4 million people and constructed or repaired 4,000 schools, built or improved 254,000 miles of roads, hired 50,000 teachers for rural schools, built or improved 1,000 airports, and employed 3,000 artists; the Public Works Administration spent $6 billion (in 1930s dollars) in contracts to private construction firms to build roads, tunnels, bridges, dams, hydroelectric-power projects, public buildings, hospitals, schools, and municipal water and sewage systems; the Works Progress Administration employed more than 8.5 million and built or improved 2,550 hospitals, nearly 40,000 schools, 85,000 public buildings, over 1,000 airports, 639,000 miles of highway, 124,000 bridges, 8,000 parks, and over 18,000 playgrounds and athletic fields; and the National Youth Administration employed nearly 5 million

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