Ada MacLean Barker: Social Worker and Advocate for the WPA Relief Effort in Georgia. Story by Leslie Larson

ADA MACLEAN BARKER, my grand aunt, spent her social worker career fighting for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) relief effort in Georgia. Inspired by Hull House in Chicago, she got a degree in social work and spent her career in the Deep South. She was an elegant and rather academic spinster, blue-stocking type who wore sturdy, custom-made quintuple A narrow shoes. She was part of a small, racially integrated cadre of women social workers who fought a dangerous, rear-guard action against the segregationist/white supremacist governor of Georgia, Eugene Talmadge, to deliver WPA programs and relief funds to indigent whites and blacks in Georgia during the Depression, and won. Talmadge was using the WPA funds for patronage. Ada was threatened with lawsuits alleging her with the very fraud that her dismissed predecessor—defended by yet another ex-governor—had been accused of. Ada called these “the happiest days of my life.” She authored the government report that summarized the WPA relief effort in Georgia, just before it was effectively dismantled in 1938—by yet another governor. The rest of her career was spent in Mississippi and Louisiana.

By Leslie Larson, September 2020.

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