The New Deal Brings Relief

The New Deal brought relief to many Iowans by providing jobs. Government projects brought electricity to Iowa farms and introduced conservation projects all over the state.


The Federal government poured millions of dollars in the New Deal projects all over Iowa. The largest amounts came through the Works Progress Administration. Women employed by the WPA were assigned to various sewing centers to make and repair clothing for needy families. Many towns had their first sewage lines installed by WPA workers. At one time the WPA had over 37,000 workers in Iowa building swimming pools, post offices, bridges, schools, city halls, fire stations and hospitals. About half of these workers paved streets and roads. And because Iowa is primary an agricultural state, the WPA created a system of farm to market roads.

In 1933 only one out of ten farm homes had electricity. Most power companies felt farmers didn’t need electricity—didn’t want it. And besides, running the lines was too expensive. The Rural Electrification Administration, another New Deal program, ran power lines across the countryside—dramatically changing the quality of life on farms. After a while, electric lights could be seen where only kerosene lanterns had been. And farm wives were able to wash the family clothes with electric power.

Factory workers and farmers were not the only people out of work. So the New Deal began a number of projects to give jobs to clerical workers, writers and artists. Under the Iowa Civil Works Arts Project unemployed artists set to work painting murals and schools, libraries and other public buildings across the state. Some of these scenes, depicting the heroic American lifestyle, still survive today. The Federal Writers Project hired writers to publish a book entitled: Iowa: A Guide to the Hawkeye State.

The New Deal programs not only saved thousands of families from unemployment, but left a lasting contribution in terms of natural conservation and beautification. A landscaping project in Dubuque’s Eagle Point State Park provided jobs for over 200 men. Dubuque was hard hit by the depression, and city planners were able to obtain almost $200,000 through the New Deal. Local stone materials were used in a blend of architectural and landscape design that preserved the park’s natural beauty.

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