Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Andrew Morris




relief, Great Depression, unemployment, labor, WPA, New York


Becoming the first U.S. state to provide direct funding and administrative support for work relief to its cities, counties and townships; with the creation of the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration in November of 1931, New York took its first steps in what would become a long tradition of work relief in the state. However, existing academic examinations of work relief in upstate New York in large part ignore activities in the state’s upstate region in favor of higher profile operations in New York City. This thesis attempts to chart the rise and developmental trajectory of work relief in upstate New York between the years of 1931 and 1943. To accomplish this task, this report examines the genesis of New York work relief under the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, expansion under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and maturation under the Works Progress Administration. The investigation of these agencies has revealed that work relief in upstate New York during the Great Depression operated through a continuum of programs, spanning from the establishment of the New York State TERA in late September of 1931 to the discontinuation of the WPA in June of 1943. In the upstate region, between late 1935 and 1938 the WPA built on legacies established by the TERA, FERA, and Civil Works Administration in order to orchestrate a substantial shift of unemployed individuals from local relief rolls to federally funded, locally sponsored work projects tailored to the specific needs of the region’s municipalities and unemployed populations. However, the ultimate success of the Administration in the upstate area was sacrificed by federal budgetary cuts and regulations over the course of 1938 and 1939 which, resulting in the reversal of positive trends established in 1936, and sparking discontent among relief populations in the state’s large industrial communities. Despite a renaissance in the WPA’s activities in the early 1940’s, the result of increased military production stemming from World War II, the impact of work relief operations in upstate New York remain mixed. As they operated in upstate New York, work programs were highly successful in the facilitation of diverse projects and programs flexible enough to provide appropriate employment opportunities and socially useful projects to the varied agricultural and industrial communities of the upstate district. On the other hand, each of the TERA, FERA and WPA proved unable to completely address the volume of relief needed across the region, with many of the area’s largest cities in 1940 financially unable to supply federally required financial contributions in order to continue participation in the WPA.