Date of Award

Spring 5-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program




Major Professor

Dr. Mary Niall Mitchell

Second Advisor

Dr. Connie Zeanah Atkinson

Third Advisor

Dr. Charles Chamberlain


For decades, scholars have debated the significance of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), emphasizing its political, economic, and artistic impact. This historiography is dominated by the accomplishments of white men. In an effort to highlight the long-neglected legions of black women who contributed to WPA projects and navigated the agency’s discriminatory practices, this paper will examine WPA operations in New Orleans where unemployment was the highest in the urban south, black women completed numerous large-scale projects, and white supremacist notions guided relief protocol. By analyzing the New Orleans WPA Photography collection, along with newspapers, government documents, and oral histories, a new perspective of the WPA emerges to illuminate the experiences of marginalized black women workers, illustrate how the legacies of slavery and effects of segregation impact black women’s employment opportunities, and highlight how black women made substantive contributions to public projects in the face of societal constraints.


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