From the Spinner Archives
This week we have chosen to feature a series of essays published in Spinner People and Culture in Southeastern Massachusetts Volume IV. These essays, which deal with ethnic surveys of various groups in southeastern Massachusetts, were originally produced as part of the Federal Writers Project, one of the programs that made up the WPA (Works Progress Administration).
To read more from the Federal Writers’ Project and to learn about other WPA projects in Southeastern Massachusetts check out Spinner IV, available on iBooks.
From These Strains
Part 1: An Introduction
Following the publication of the Massachusetts Guide in the spring of 1937, the Federal Writers began researching the ethnic and racial groups in the state. This work project, at one point entitled “From These Strains,” was also referred to as the “Survey of Racial Elements.” The project received much support from ethnic and racial organizations including financial sponsorship.
The newspaper Swedish Consul and others guaranteed financial sponsorship for work on the Swedes; the Associated Jewish Philanthropies and the Jewish Advocate agreed to sponsor Jewish Study. Groups representing the Irish, African Americans, Armenians, Albanians, Chinese, Latvians, Finns, Russians, Scotch and Italians were also considering such sponsorships. The International Institute had given assurance that the histories of the smaller racial groups would be published in a single volume.
Assistant State Director, Bert James Loewenberg, wrote to Henry Alsberg expressing concern that the racial survey be submitted to a learned society or university press to assure its success.
“The success of this survey depends not so much upon the procurement of active sponsors but upon its point of view and scholarly attainments…Adequate studies of American racial elements constitute a gap in our historiography and those which have already appeared are, for the most part, marred by a lack of perspective.”
As of 1940, a list of publications submitted by State Director Muriel Hawks to the Boston office included “The Albanian Struggle in the Old World and New” and “The Armenians in Massachusetts.” Most of the work performed by the hundreds of Massachusetts writers on ethnic or “racial” elements was never published.
These selections are a small sampling of Federal Writers’ Project writings on the many ethnic groups in Southeastern Massachusetts. Some of the work is not original, nor is it comprehensive or scholarly. Though the writings often reflect the stereotypical attitudes and politics of the times, they are valuable as a major attempt to gather these histories and may be appreciated for what they reveal.