Francis Dryden had many supervisory roles during the New Deal, including acting commissioner of the entire Work Projects Administration (WPA) from April 15 through July, 1942 . In 1939, as head of the Maryland WPA, Dryden had said: “If the depression that began in 1929 can be compared with a dark cloud, then the work done under the WPA is its silver lining. For the major projects undertaken in Maryland and other states have been of a kind to be of lasting value to the communities involved” .
Francis Dryden was born in Pocomoke City, Maryland, on January 5, 1891, and received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Maryland in 1909. He worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad after graduation and served as a captain in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War I. After the war, Dryden worked for the Niagara Falls Power Company, helping with an $11 million expansion of the power plant. He later returned to Maryland, started an engineering consulting firm, and became the chief engineer for the city of Salisbury .
On January 1, 1934, with unemployment plaguing the nation, Dryden became the chief engineer for the Civil Works Administration (CWA) in Maryland. Several months later, he was named director of the state’s work program under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). That segued into state WPA administrator in 1935 and, about that same time, a WPA regional director for Maryland and surrounding jurisdictions. In December 1940, Dryden was promoted to assistant WPA commissioner in charge of all construction projects across the country, “administering thousands of WPA projects involving road and street construction, building construction, water and sewer installations, construction of stadiums, airports, public utilities and other public improvements, as well as vastly expanded work on army and navy reservations and other areas important to national defense” . He finished up as the WPA’s national commissioner in 1942, just before the program’s closure.
Dryden was a great believer in the mission of the WPA. In 1940, he wrote: “Is a hungry man, who sees his family slowly starving, likely to be a profound believer in Democracy? Is an under-fed child likely to develop into an adult defender of the Democratic system?… I think not… How much more truly does [the WPA] reflect the spirit of a great Democracy in providing work for its people, than the sorry story that would have been depicted by putting them on a dole, or returning them to the beggar status advocated by some in high places” .
During World War II, Dryden rejoined the Corps of Engineers, this time serving as a colonel under the Persian Gulf Command. After the war, he worked with the Veterans Administration for several years and then once again returned home to Maryland. Francis Dryden died in Salisbury, Maryland on February 1, 1968, at age 77. He was survived by his wife, Isabel Spring, a daughter, Mrs. Duncan Augustine of Birmingham, Michigan, and several other relatives. Besides serving in both world wars and devoting most of his career to the public good, Dryden had been active in a number of organizations, including the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Salisbury Rotary Club, the Masons, and the Wicomico Presbyterian Church .
Sources: (1) Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, p. 10. (2) “Work Done By WPA In State Reported,” The Sun (Baltimore Sun), March 26, 1939, p. 14. (3) Biographical sketch of Francis Dryden, Record Group 69, Records of the Work Projects Administration, National Archives and Records Administration; “Francis Dryden Dies at 77 – Was National WPA Official,” The Sun (Baltimore Sun), February 3, 1968, p. A9; “Francis H. Dryden,” Find A Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=65622717, accessed December 8, 2015. (4) Biographical sketch of Francis Dryden, Record Group 69, Records of the Work Projects Administration, National Archives and Records Administration. (5) Prepared statement for the dedication of a WPA constructed building in Williamsport, Maryland, July 27, 1940, Record Group 69, Records of the Work Projects Administration, National Archives and Records Administration. (6) “Francis Dryden Dies at 77 – Was National WPA Official,” The Sun (Baltimore Sun), February 3, 1968, p. A9.
Check out our latest map and guide to the work of the New Deal in Washington, D.C. It includes 500 New Deal sites in the District alone, highlighting 34 notable sites, and includes an inset map of the area around the National Mall which can be used for self-guided walking tours.
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