Rewriting America

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

Rewriting America

 


Henry Alsberg, director of the FWP, testifying before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, 1938. Courtesy, Library of Congress.

The New Deal’s Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), begun in 1935, employed more than 10,000 out-of work writers, editors, art critics, researchers and historians. Women made up forty percent of the workforce, including as state directors. It hired now-renowned African American writers. The FWP’s founding director, Henry Alsberg, was a journalist, a Jew and a suspected Communist. A group of conservative business men complained to FDR that the Project was “dominated by Communist sympathizers.” A censor was installed at the FWP’s central office to police for “subversive” material. The chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Rep. Martin Dies, claimed that one-third of the FWP’s members were Communists. Alsberg was called to testify, then fired. The FWP was dissolved and nearly erased from the public’s mind. Until now.

 

Susan Ives is communications director for the Living New Deal and editor of the Living New Deal newsletter.

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