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Federal Theatre Project Collection

Identifier: MsC0314

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Scope and Contents

This collection consists of twenty-four scripts and a run of the newsletter, Federal One (which later changed its name to New Federal One), some newspaper clippings, and some brochures from George Mason University.


  • Creation: 1936-1939


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

Biographical / Historical

"It was, in its time, a formidable creative enterprise.

The Federal Theater, part of the Works Progress Administration's Art Project, began its life in October of 1935, after the realization came that playwrights and actors, stagehands and costume designers were no less hungry and out of work in the Great Depression than other Americans. Under the direction of a feisty, strong-willed woman named Hallie Flanagan, they were put to work in their own fields.

By mid-1936, 153 producing theaters were operating in 28 of the 48 states, playing to 359,000 people weekly, many of whom had never seen live theater before. There were productions in Spanish and Yiddish and Italian and French, there were special all-black units, and units for children's theater and for marionettes, and for blind theatergoers. At its peak, the Federal Theatre employed more than 12,700 persons.

Theater critics raved about its efforts, but reviews from some of its congressional producers, who provided the appropriations, were less favorable. The House Un-American Activities Committee, under Texas Rep. Martin Dies, accused it of operating under Communist influence. Rural legislators worried about the coming of urban theater to the backwoods. An Illinois Congressman, Everett McKinley Dirksen, railed that some of the original WPA plays, like "New Deal For Mary" and "The Mayor and the Manicurist," were "salacious tripe," without any 'real cultural values.'

By 1939, the appropriations for the Federal Theater had been cut regularly, and in June of that year, it passed out of existence entirely. "

(Taken from Weintraub, Boris. "Depression Born Drama." The Washington Star Portfolio, May 15, 1976.)


2.00 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Complete working scripts of 19 produced and 5 unproduced plays. Includes Eugene O'Neill (One-Act Plays of the Sea) and George Bernard Shaw (On the Rocks).

Method of Acquisition

These scripts were presented to The University of Iowa Libraries in 1973 by Don Farran, who served as Director of the Regional Midwest Play Bureau, Chicago, from 1938 - 1939.

Related Materials

George Mason University holds a large collection of Federal Theater papers, including over 7000 scripts. The link to their finding aid is located under External Documents. Farran, Don. "Recollections of the Federal Theatre," Books at Iowa 18 (April 1973). Link to the Recollections can be found under External Documents. The papers of Don Farran held by Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries. (MsC0600) University Archive records of E.C. Mabie, who was Midwest regional director of the project for much of the time in the 1930s. (RG 99.0188) Theses and dissertations written using these playscripts (see the following): Adubato, Robert A. "A History of the WPA's Negro Theatre Project in New York City, 1925 -- 1939." Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1978. DAI 39:1930-A. Bain, Reginald Frank. "The Federal Government and Theatre: A History of Federal Involvement in Theatre from the End of the Federal Theatre Project in 1939 to the Establishment of the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities in 1965." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1972. DAI 33:439-A. Billings, Alan Gailey. "Design in the Works Progress Administration's Federal Theatre Project (1935 -- 1939)." PhD. dissertation, University of Illinois, 1967. DAI 28:1550-A Falk, George. "Major Social and Cultural Contributions of the WPA: Federal Theater Project." MA Thesis, History, University of Maryland, 1951 Floyd, James R. "The Federal Theater and the Federal Government." MA Thesis, History, Kent State University, 1965. 131 pages Frank, Felicia Nina Lisa. "The Magazines Workers Theatre, New Theatre, and New Theatre and Film as Documents of the American Left-Wing Theatre movement of the Nineteen-Thirties." PhD. dissertations, City University of New York, 1976. DAI 37:3273-A Hammouda, Abdul-Aziz Adbul-Salam Soliman. "The Living Newspaper: A Study in Sources and Form." Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University, 1968. DAI 29:1978-A. High, Leslie Crammond, Jr. "The Documentary Idea in Depression America." PhD. dissertation, University of Michigan, 1973. DAI 35:454-A. Jones, May Wells. "A History of the Radial Theatre in the United States from 1930 to 1970." Ph.D. dissertation, Tulane University, 1971. DAI 32:6598-A. Koran, Audry M. "Hallie Flanagan: Director and Education." MA Thesis, Pennsylvania State University, 1976. Korn, Marjorie Susan. "It Can't Happen Here: Federal Theatre's Bold Adventure." PhD. dissertation, University of Missouri, 1978. DAI 39:5811-A. Kreizenbeck, Alan Dennis. "The Theatre Nobody Knows: Forgotten Productions of the Federal Theatre Project, 1935 -- 1939." Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1979. DAI 40:2360-A. Lally, Kathleen Ann. "A History of the Federal Dance Theatre of the Works Progress Administration, 1959 -- 1939." Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Woman's University, 1978. DAI 40:6-A. Mardis, Robert Francis. "Federal Theatre in Florida." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Florida, 1972. DAI 34:446-A. McKim, Paul N. "A Survey of the Federal Theater Project in Los Angeles, 1936 -- 1938, As Observed in the Los Angeles Examiner and the Los Angeles Times." MA Thesis, Theater Arts, University of California, Los Angeles, 1953. 395 pages. Mendoza, Barbara Murphy. "Hallie Flanagan: Her Role in American Theatre, 1924 -- 1935." Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1976. Miller, M. Lawrence. "Original Federal Theatre Protest Plays-1936 -- 1939: New Deal Contributions to the American Drama of Social Concern." Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, 1968. DAI 29:3616-A. Preston, Ray L. "Still Projections and Motion Pictures in Federal Theatre Living Newspaper Productions." MA Thesis, University of Iowa, 1964. Ridge, Patricia Lin. "The Contributions of Hallie Flanagan to the American Theatre." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Colorado, 1971. DAI 32:4141-A.

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Repository Details

Part of the University of Iowa Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)