Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Civil Works Administration (CWA)
from The American Economy: A Historical Encyclopedia

A federal depression-era program that put out-of-work Americans to work on public projects.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 6420-B creating the Civil Works Administration (CWA) on November 9, 1933. This entirely federal program was headed by Harry L. Hopkins, a federal emergency relief administrator who recruited people from relief and unemployment lists. Keeping in mind people’s emotional and psychological well-being, Hopkins created a system in which people worked on public works projects throughout the nation rather than simply receiving a regular relief check. By early 1943, the CWA employed 4.2 million people. Roosevelt would remember this successful model in future relief projects. The program became an extraordinary and immediate success. In the West, CWA workers helped cope with a serious drought. With help from Eleanor Roosevelt, the president’s wife, Hopkins also focused on providing work for artists and actors, despite the president’s doubts about the idea’s validity. For instance, Hopkins sent opera singers on tour in the Ozark Mountains, providing people in an economically disadvantaged region with a cultural event they would otherwise never have experienced. Unemployed teachers also benefited from the CWA. Overall, the CWA remains responsible for building 40,000 schools, 469 airports, and miles of streets and roads. The most important result of the program, however, was the morale boost it gave the nation.

Hopkins and Roosevelt tried to keep politics out of the CWA, but it was hurt by rumors of political patronage and illegal profits. During the harsh winter of 1933-1934, Roosevelt wanted to end the program despite its success, worried about the political problems and enormous cost associated with the program and about creating a permanent poor class dependent on welfare. Overall, the program infused the economy with more than $1 billion and played an important part in helping the American people survive the 1933 winter. In 1939, the CWA became known as the Works Progress Administration.

See also: Volume One: New Deal; Roosevelt, Franklin D. (1882-1945).

  • Olson, James Stuart, ed. Historical Dictionary of the New Deal: From Inauguration to Preparation for War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.
  • Lisa A. Ennis
    Copyright 2011 by ABC-CLIO, LLC

    Related Articles

    Full text Article Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA)
    The American Economy: A Historical Encyclopedia

    Government agency established to coordinate the relief effort during the early years of the Great Depression. After his inauguration as...

    Full text Article Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA)
    Historical Encyclopedia of American Labor

    For most of American history, poor relief was regarded as the province of states, localities, and private charities. Following on the Puritan...

    Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, and Historical Encyclopedia

    Slavery provides virtually the prototype of the historical episode involving the inarticulate. Histories of the peculiar institution must of...

    See more from Credo