The Great Depression and the New Deal

“Give a man a dole,” he observed, “and you save his body and destroy his spirit. Give him a job and you save both body and spirit.” -Harry Hopkins, director of the WPA.  As the citizenry struggled with the Great Depression, efforts were made to repair the economy, as well as the spirit of those disheartened by economic collapse. Travel back to a time when art was commissioned as part of the Works Progress Administration, putting artists to work.  Finally, pay your respects to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president behind the New Deal.

Choose your adventure below!

williamsburg mural

Murals in the neighborhood

The murals that now hang in the Brooklyn Museum,  Williamsburg Murals: A rediscovery, were once part of a major public works project known as the WPA. The murals were commissioned for housing projects.  The Williamsburg housing projects weren’t the only public building to contain New Deal Era murals, others could still be found around the city.

  • Queensborough Public Library in Richmond Hill  Philip Evergood, “The Story of Richmond Hill."   Look at the sections of the murals  as chapters in the story of Richmond Hill.  Create a chapter title for each section of the mural. While looking at the murals, consider the mood of the Great Depression.  Does the mural give a sense of doom, or hope for the future?

  • Woodhaven Post Office Ben Shahn, “The Four Freedoms.” Ben Shahn depicts the freedoms guaranteed by the first amendment:  freedom of the press, speech, religion and to assemble.  Look for evidence of each freedom in the mural. How do these themes connect to the Great Depression? Consider which freedom you think is most important, or if there are other freedoms that should be added.

  • New York Public Library Edward Laning, "Story of the Recorded Word." Look at the mural as chapters in the story of written history. Consider our lives today.  Design a fifth panel to represent the recorded word today.

Teacher Tip: Check access to all sites before visiting.

New Deal Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

As you view O. Louis Guglielmi’s, One Third of a Nation, imagine FDR’s inaugural address of 1937,  "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." Look for ways the painting represents this visually.  O. Louis Guglielmi was an artist employed by the WPA from 1934-1939, during the Great Depression. The title of the painting was inspired by FDR’s speech. His art represents the concerns of the day. Make a sketch that illustrates a social concern of the past or the present.


FDR: the men behind the New Deal at Four Freedoms Park

“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.” FDR

Put yourself in the shoes of the citizenry during the Great Depression.   The election that brought FDR to office was a call for change, and cry for help.  While it was years before the United States emerged from the economic collapse, faith was placed in FDR who was re-elected an unprecedented four times. Imagine the hope placed in the president as you visit Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island.

Teachers, explore on your own or check out the field trip options.

To further explore the life and legacy of FDR head north to the Home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


Empire state buidling

The Empire State Building

Stare up at the tallest building in New York City, or at least it was in 1931.  Upon its completion, it was also known as the “Empty State Building.”  As a result of the Great Depression, the owners of the building couldn't find enough tenants. As you head to the top, consider the design of the building. Using the Empire State Building as inspiration, design an architectural feat of the future. Consider the engineering limitations and possibilities!


Teacher Tips:

Check access to all sites before visiting.


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