WPA Guide to Iowa (Review)

One of my go-to sources for late 1930s Iowa history is the WPA guidebook of Iowa. I have a reprinted version from 1986. The original title: Iowa: A Guide to the Hawkeye State was published in 1938.

Ja Du Von directed the “Iowa Project” of the WPA, Federal Project # 1 which put 4,500 artists to work (of that number only 106 were black).

This giant tome provides the following:

  • Detailed history from Iowa’s indigenous peoples to the white man’s invasion.
  • Largest cities (Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Iowa City, Sioux City) are given mini biographies.
  • Suggested tours highlighting cities and places in varying areas throughout the state.

The audience for this book is very “white centric”. Mentions of “negro” places are listed in passing. The book is a project of its time. With strengths and weaknesses apparent to modern readers. One thing I greatly appreciate about this book is that it focuses on the end of the 1930s rather than the often over emphasized years of 1929-1932.