Good Works: Federal Writers Project

By Paula Stuart-Warren Premium

The Historical Records Survey’s sister program, the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), assigned writers a variety of tasks, including conducting oral histories. The Library of Congress has posted two FWP collections on its American Memory Web site.

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938 <> contains more than 2,300 first-personaccounts, such as 72-year-old Josephine Howell’s. “My mother was Rebecca Jones. She was born in Nashville, Tenn.,” Howell told FWP interviewer Irene Robinson. “Grandma was a cook and a breeding woman … she was the mother of 21 children … Mama said she was 8 years old when Gabe McAlway come to Nashville and got her. He bought her. He was a young man and a saloon-keeper at Augusta, Ark.”

More than 300 FWP writers interviewed people from all walks of life — including Ella Lea Dow, purportedly the first white baby born in Roswell, NM — and recorded 10,000-plus life stories. Many are part of American Life Histories: Manuscripts From the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940 <>.

You can search the full text of both collections and browse the names of slave-narrative subjects. Both sites also have images and sound recordings for several interviews.