Pennsylvania State University – State College PA


Then known as the Pennsylvania State College, Pennsylvania State University benefited during the Great Depression from a massive construction project enabled by the federal Public Works Administration (PWA). The PWA provided a $1,446,000 grant for the project, whose final cost was $4,189,100. Construction occurred between February 1938 and August 1939. (PWA Docket No. [W]1874.)

Twelve buildings were constructed on the campus, including numerous academic buildings.
“Charles Klauder had continued to revise his campus master plan as new buildings were added on the ground. A major revision came in 1937 in anticipation of major federal funding for public works. To meet long-delayed needs of women students, Penn State had already built Atherton Hall and the White Physical Education Building through a loan. Now they prepared for a building boom. The legislature created the General State Authority in 1937, and in the next year five million dollars from the federal Public Works Administration were funneled through the GSA to Penn State.

These funds built Pattee Library, Burrowes Building, Electrical Engineering West, Osmond and Frear Labs, Ag Engineering, Ferguson Building, the Poultry Plant, and additions to Steidle and Sparks. With the passing of the 1930s, the campus remained relatively stable until after World War II.”

Furthermore, many underprivileged students were able to attend the college due to FERA and NYA funding assistance.

“At Penn State, nearly 20 percent of incoming students received FERA assistance at the beginning of the 1934-35 academic year, and a grand total of approximately 500 undergraduates worked at FERA-sponsored jobs.

The most common tasks, employing over 100 students, pertained to agriculture and encompassed everything from general field labor to laboratory research. Many other students were employed in the laboratories of the School of Chemistry and Physics, where they served as research assistants to the faculty, took inventories, or performed general housekeeping duties. The Alumni Association utilized a dozen FERA workers to compile a new directory of Penn State graduates and former students, containing over 25,000 names and addresses; it was published in 1935 and was the first such public listing to appear in over 15 years. Many coeds found employment in the Department of Home Economics laboratories or in helping to run that department’s nursery school. Head librarian Willard P. Lewis made the most unusual use of FERA student labor: He had students comb the obituary sections of selected Pennyslvania newspapers in hope of discovering deceased persons who had left large quantities of books or memorabilia relating to the Commonwealth’s history and culture. If the situation seemed promising, Lewis would contact surviving family members and gently hint that the College library would be most grateful for any donations they might wish to make.

Federal assistance to college youths in the form of work programs was to continue at Penn State and at most other institutions for the remainder of the decade. In 1935 the National Youth Administration superseded the FERA in administering these programs, but the objectives and operation stayed essentially unchanged.”

Source notes

National Archives: Record Group 135: Public Works Administration; Projects Control Division; Entry 52: Indices to Non-Federal Projects; Report No. 5: Status of All Completed Non-Federal Allotted Projects, page 36.

"History of University Park Campus"; accessed 11/30/14:

"Enduring the Great Depression"; accessed 11/30/14:

"Public Works Administration", a Google Fusion Table by LaDale Winling, edited on March 15, 2011.

Project originally submitted by Evan Kalish on November 29, 2014.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

University Park
State College, PA 16801

Coordinates: 40.796, -77.863

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