Beginning in 1933, The Field Museum hired workers from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency created to employ people on public-works projects during the Great Depression. Each year, The Field Museum employed approximately 200 WPA employees, which augmented the 189 Museum employees at the time, and a few were hired on a permanent basis after the WPA program's end in 1943.
WPA workers at The Field Museum had varied assignments that were paid for through the agency: some carried out scientific research projects, while others assisted in tasks requiring artistic ability such as the creation of murals, dioramas, and plant models. Many provided clerical work and skilled labor: overall, the Museum's Division of Printing was one of the largest employers of WPA workers. All of the scientific divisions benefited by the large numbers of relief employees assigned to tasks like cataloging, typing manuscript records, filing, cleaning of specimens, and mounting photographs.
As reported by Director Stephen C. Simms in the Field Museum News February 1937 issue, "It should be distinctly understood that this employment of relief workers has been exclusively on the accomplishment of objectives which would not and could not have been undertaken if these people had not been available. The number of regular employees on the Museum's own payroll has not been reduced in consequence (but has slightly increased, in fact), and all of the Museum's own staff members are fully occupied with work of a character more urgent and important than that assigned to the relief workers."
For further reading on the work carried out by WPA workers at The Field Museum, please refer to the following Field Museum resources and publications:
- Annual Report of the Director to the Board of Trustees for the year 1933, p. 27
- Annual Report of the Director to the Board of Trustees for the year 1934, p. 164-66
- Annual Report of the Director to the Board of Trustees for the year 1935, pp. 44-48
- Annual Report of the Director to the Board of Trustees for the year 1936, pp. 31-32, 45, 91.
- Annual Report of the Director to the Board of Trustees for the year 1937, pp. 185, 200, 208, 218, 229, 232, 241, 246.
- Annual Report of the Director to the Board of Trustees for the year 1938, pp. 349, 350, 352, 353, 367, 368, 376, 384, 395, 398, 401, 407, 412, 417.
- Annual Report of the Director to the Board of Trustees for the year 1939, pp. 39, 43, 49, 91, 93, 97.
- 1940: 204, 205.
- Annual Report of the Director to the Board of Trustees for the year 1941, pp. 343, 354, 355, 375, 381, 382, 387, 413, 421.
Books and Fieldiana
- Chicago Natural History Museum, Austin Loomer Rand, and Emmet Reid Blake. 1954. Birds the World over, as Shown in Habitat Groups in Chicago Natural History Museum.
- Martin, Paul S., and Elizabeth S. Willis. 2000. Anasazi painted pottery in Field Museum of Natural History. Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Pub.
- Nash, Stephen E. "The Great Depression Begets a Great Expansion: Field Museum Anthropology 1929-1941." In Shovel Ready: Archaeology and Roosevelt's New Deal for America, ed. Bernard Klaus Means, 67-88. Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 2013.
- Alvey, Mark. "Rediscovering Julius Moessel: Chicago and The Field Museum's Master Muralist." In the Field v. 70 (May-June 1999): p. 2-5.
- Boulton, Rudyerd. "The Kiwi, One of the World's Strangest Birds, Shown in New Habitat Group." Field Museum News v. 11, no. 10, October 1940: p. 1-2.
- Dahlgren, B.E. "Model Shows Cassava Mill Producing South America's 'Staff of Life'." Field Museum News v. 13 no. 2, February 1942: p. 1- 2.
- Dillon, Michael O. and Beverly Serrell. "The Botanical World in Replica" Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin v. 54, no. 8, September 1983: p. 5-10.
- Simms, Stephen C. "WPA Pays $139,579 to Workers on Field Museum Project." Field Museum News v. 8, no. 2, February 1937: p. 3.
- Walsten, David. M. "The Legacy of Carl Akeley." Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin v. 57, no. 1, January 1986: p. 8.
- Woods, Loren P. "New Habitat Group Shows Fish Life of the Galapagos." Field Museum News v. 13, no. 12, December 1942: p. 1-2