David Shribman’s Ideas piece on the Federal Writers’ Project certainly reminds us of some of the great products of FDR’s New Deal (“Dreaming of a Federal Writers’ Project 2.0,″ Ideas, March 21). Much the same could be said for the Civilian Conservation Corps, including the benefits of its revival. But the Federal Writers’ Project was not as purely feel-good as Shribman describes. Massachusetts’ WPA Guide was the subject of a largely forgotten 1930s culture-war controversy that would be at home in today’s headlines … or on cable news.
As unearthed by historian Christine Bold (“Writers, Plumbers, and Anarchists: The WPA Writers’ Project in Massachusetts”), the first Mass. Guide, written largely by underemployed academics, included a portrayal of the Sacco-Vanzetti case that elicited outrage from conservative critics. That was the main event. The undercard featured an uprising against the Mass. Guide’s relatively sympathetic description of Lawrence’s 1912 “Bread & Roses” strike.
The criticscaused a head or two to roll, and forced the publication of a revised edition — which was passed off as the original. So not only was it censored, but the act of censoring was censored. Meanwhile, the federal art and theater projects were subjected to vitriolic opposition campaigns that ultimately did them in. One can easily imagine the fights arising from a new Writers’ Project. And we say, let’s have at it!
Bread & Roses Heritage Committee