This post features selected maps that were created under the auspices of the Federal Writers' Project.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched the Federal Writers’ Project in July 1935 as part of the New Deal. The goal was to provide jobs for unemployed writers, historians, and editors during the Great Depression. Thousands of people found employment through the project. The personal life histories of Americans, guidebooks to the states, folklore, local histories, and natural history books were published until the program ended. This post highlights various maps held in the Library of Congress that were produced under the auspices of the Federal Writers’ Project, beginning with a hand drawn map of the Underground Railroad.

More than 2000 formerly enslaved people were interviewed during the project. The manuscripts are titled Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938. The majority of the Slave Narratives are housed in the Manuscript Division; however, the  Underground Railroad map featured in this post is held in the Geography and Map Division. The place names shown on the map represent the places where the enslaved people stopped, and the routes they traveled as they escaped to freedom.

Underground railroad map of the United States, ca. 1838-1860. Federal Writers’ Project. 1941. Geography and Map Division.

The following is a detail from the map shown above. The detail shows the routes that were taken near Chicago. The name of the abolitionist John Brown is printed above Bureau County, Illinois.

A detail from the Underground Railroad map showing a route taken west of Chicago.
Detail from Underground railroad map of the United States, ca. 1838-1860. Federal Writers’ Project. 1941. Geography and Map Division.

The following maps are from the American Guide Series of the Federal Writers’ Project. Books of every state were published for the series. The books contain travel guides, state histories, folklore, and maps of historic places. Featured below is a tourist map of Georgetown.

A travel map of New Mexico dated 1937.
Georgetown 1937. Federal Writers’ Project. 1937. Geography and Map Division.

The next map is of Fort Marcy, New Mexico. The fort was constructed in 1846 and deactivated in the 1890s. It was named after William Marcy who served as the U.S. Secretary of War from 1845 to 1849. The fort’s ruins still exist at Old Fort Marcy Park, located on a hill overlooking Santa Fe.

A map of Fort Marcy in New Mexico.
Plan of Fort & block house constructed at Santa Fé.-Texas. Clem Chavez, Federal Writers’ Project. 1941. Geography and Map Division.

Next is a manuscript map of Durham, New Hampshire. The map of Durham shows the location of the monument for General John Sullivan. John Sullivan served during the Revolutionary War and became the third governor of New Hampshire in 1789.

A manuscript map of the monument to General John Sullivan who served in the Revolutionary War.
Sullivan Monument from Collection of maps relating to publication of “New Hampshire, a guide to the Granite State. Federal Writers’ Project. 1927-1938. Geography and Map Division.

The Federal Arts Project for unemployed artists was included in Roosevelt’s New Deal program. Two pictorial maps from natural history books are featured below. The first map shows the distribution of birds throughout the world; the second map shows the distribution of reptiles and amphibians. Workers from both the Federal Writers’ Project and the Federal Arts Project compiled the books.

A pictorial map of the world showing the different species of birds.
Birds of the World from Birds of the world; an illustrated natural history. Federal Writers’ Project. 1938. General Collections.
A world map showing the distribution of reptiles.
Distribution of reptiles and amphibians. From Reptiles and amphibians; an illustrated natural history. Federal Writers’ Project. 1941. General Collections.

The persons interviewed for the Slave Narratives Project ranged in age from 80 to over 100. Without the Federal Writers’ Project, the information they provided might have been permanently lost. The authors of the American Guide Series contributed  information about the regional traditions of people living in American towns and cities. The artists of the Federal Arts Project collaborated with writers to produce some exceptional books and pictorial maps. The manuscripts and printed materials that were produced during the program have great educational and historical value; please refer to the following sources to learn more about the Federal Writers’ Project materials in the Library of Congress.

Discover More:

  • American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940
  • Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938
  • Articles and Essays
  • Search Photos, Prints, Drawings

Source: https://blogs.loc.gov/maps/2024/06/manuscripts-and-historical-journeys-the-maps-of-the-federal-writers-project/

Manuscripts and Historical Journeys: The Maps of the Federal Writers’ Project