Federal Writers Project Presentation Puts Spotlight On Pocahontas County
Marlinton, WV – In the 1930’s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt put thousands of unemployed writers to work documenting local history across America, including Pocahontas County. It was known as the Federal Writers Project, perhaps a less well known program under the sweeping New Deal initiative to get people working as the county struggled to come back after the Great Depression.
Dr. Jerry Thomas, Professor Emeritus of History at Shepherd University and an expert on the New Deal Era, will speak about the project at the McClintic Library on Tuesday, October 12th. His research into the subject has already lead to publication of information about West Virginia’s New Deal history. He explains what prompted him to come to Pocahontas.
“More recently I got into looking into what some of the specific counties did and when I got a call from Gibbs Kinderman about a year asking me if I’d be interested in talking it renewed my interest in it” says Thomas. “In fact I made another trip up to the WVU archives and researched Pocahontas County.”
Dr. Thomas says these writers were probably not well known, as they had to be people who could qualify for economic help from the federal government. In Pocahontas they were folks like Lillian W. Belcher, Juanita Dilley, Ella Prichard, Richard Dilworth and Samuel G. Smith. In fact, Dr. Thomas is hoping that family members who knew the writers will attend his presentation.
The writers project fell under the Works Progress Administration or WPA. Dr. Thomas says the largest part of the WPA was construction and building projects, but money was also put into the arts.
“This writers’ project was a relatively small program that ultimately employed maybe 7000 people across the country” he says. “That’s a fairly small number compared to the numbers being employed in the construction projects; but writers have to eat too.”
Dr. Thomas says his talk Tuesday night will focus on the Pocahontas writers and their contribution to recording West Virginia history. He’ll also talk about why the project was somewhat controversial.
“Another big part of this is that this whole thing was highly controversial both on the federal level and the state level” says Dr. Thomas. “The political opposition was so severe, even from the [West Virginia] Governor’s office that they had to put the project on hold until that particular Governor left office in 1941. The Governor at the time, Homer Holt, claimed that it was radical propaganda.”
If you want to more about the controversy, or are just curious about the writers, be sure to stop by the McClintic Library in Marlinton on Tuesday October 12th at 7pm.