Monday’s for Me ~ My Mother Had A Job!

cccA few years ago I wrote a blog about my Dad who had participated in the Civilian Conservation Corp at Lake Tahoe, California back in 1935. I have a lot of photos of him there, as well as many photos he took of his time there. It was interesting to research the camp and learn more about my Dad in doing so.

What does the above statement have to do with my mother, Emmajane1940 cen Smith Hughes? Let me tell you this first. My mother was a mentally ill woman who wreaked havoc in my Dad’s and my lives. As a result, I have neglected doing the same type of research on my mother’s side of the family as I have done on my Dad’s. That is until the last 7 months. As I was taking a second look at the 1940s Census for her I discovered something I hadn’t seen before.

mom & avis
Mother & Avis

In this Census my mother was 21 years old and living in Lexington, Lafayette County, Missouri. She had a roommate named Avis, however, there is no mention of her 4 years old son. It stated that she worked for the WPA (Work Projects Administration) at the County Courthouse. I was surprised because my mother had never worked! My Uncle once told me that even as a child she would pretend to be sick to get out of work. Also, she never once mentioned that she had worked during this time frame. Here is what I discovered about the WPA.

The Works Project Administration was an American New Deal agency, employing millions of job-seekers to carry out public works projects. It was established on May 6, 1935, by Executive Order 7034.

The Historical Records Survey (HRS) was a project of the Works Projectusa_work_program Administration New Deal program in the United States. Originally part of the Federal Writers’ Project, it was devoted to surveying and indexing historically significant records in state, county, and local archives. The official mission statement was the “discovery, preservation, and listing of basic materials for research in the history of the United States.” It was organized on November 15, 1935, under the direction of Luther H. Evans with a budget of $1,195,800, the Survey began life under the Federal Writers’ Project. It became an independent division of Federal Project Number One in October 1936 within the Works Project Administration’s Women’s and Professional Division. In 1939, with more artistic federal programs under attack from Congress, partly because they employed suspected Communists, the less controversial HRS was moved to the Work Projects Administration Research and Records Program, Professional and Service Division. The program was shut down on February 1, 1943.

In 1939 the federal government handed off the program’s activities to willing state governments. Each state had its own supervisor coordinating the Survey’s activities. Other accomplishments included the Soundex indexes of the states for several of the late 19th-century U.S. Censuses (1880, 1900, 1910, 1920), indexes of vital statistics, book indexes, bibliographies, cemetery indexes, and newspaper indexes, the Atlas of Congressional Roll Calls Project, a historical index of American musicians, surveys of portraits in public buildings, maritime records, a history of grazing, a food history project called America Eats, and a necessary survey of the federal Archives—NARA itself had been established only in 1934. The Survey also innovated archival practice. For example, it made use of new microfilm technology, experimented with its use in archiving, and advanced on previously existing practices.

I am amazed that my mother participated in something that helps me today. Since a large number of my ancestors had lived in the State of Missouri with many of them migrating there before it was a state. Even my paternal grandparents ended up in Lexington in the early 1920s, so the indexing she helped with is vital to my research. Both the CCC and the WPA were vital to our country during the hard times of the great depression. It gives me a sense of pride that both of my parents took part in these programs.


I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

4 thoughts on “Monday’s for Me ~ My Mother Had A Job!

  1. Yours is the second blog post I’ve read today mentioning the WPA. Funny how that happens sometimes. My mother is much like yours – mental illness issues and never worked. Well, she did briefly a couple times, but she wasn’t really suited to it. How cool that your mom helped with the sort of archive work that helps us today as genealogists!

    1. That is funny how that works. I am surprised that she never mentioned it to my sister and me. Maybe if we knew she had been capable of working we may have thought she could do work around the house!

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