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Who’s Who in the New Deal

  • Jacob Baker (1895-1967) – Administrator of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and later of the WPA. Baker was one of the principal creators of Federal One and the WPA/FAP. Internal politics and personality conflicts shortened his tenure on the project he created (1935-1936).
  • George Biddle (1885-1973) – Artist. A friend of FDR’s since their days at Groton and Harvard, Biddle’s letter to the president calling for relief for artists is considered the seed of all the New Deal art projects. Biddle completed a number of works for the Section.
  • Edward Bruce (1880-1943) – Businessman, lawyer, banker, artist, and head of the Section of Fine Arts. Though he showed an early aptitude for art, Bruce established a successful career as a businessman in the Far East. Then at age 42 he left the Far East and his business career to study painting in Italy. After three years of study with Maurice Sterne, he returned and embarked on a successful career as a painter. In 1933, he was instrumental in the creation of the PWAP and was named its chief. Actively working for a successor organization, he oversaw the creation of the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. Fighting for the integrity and vision of the Section through its various name and administrative changes sapped Bruce’s strength. He died of a heart attack in early 1943.
  • Holger Cahill (1887-1960) – Born Sveinn Kristjan Bjarnarson in Iceland, at an early age Cahill’s parents brought him to North America. To escape a difficult childhood, Cahill left home at thirteen, working on ranches, railroads, and as a merchant marine. Deciding to become a writer, he moved to New York City. He took journalism courses at New York University at night and made friends with artists in his Greenwich Village neighborhood. In 1922 he joined the Newark Museum; in 1932 he became exhibitions director of the Museum of Modern Art. While at MoMA, Cahill organized a number of important exhibitions of American folk art. A writer of fiction since the 1920s, Cahill published novels and short stories as well as doing museum work until 1935 when he was chosen as the National Director of the Federal Art Project (1935-1943). Upon leaving the WPA/FAP, he resumed his writing career.
  • John Michael Carmody (1881-1963) – As first administrator of the Federal Works Agency (July 1, 1939), Carmody oversaw both the WPA/FAP and the Section.
  • Olin Dows (1904-1981) – Artist and art administrator. Dows was director of the Treasury Relief Art Project (1935-1938) and an important aide to Edward Bruce. His memoirs are a good source of information on the TRAP and Section.
  • Hallie Flanagan (1890-1969) – National director of the Federal Theatre Project (1935-1939). (photo)
  • Francis Clark Harrington (1887-1940) – A member of the US Army Corps of Engineers (1909-1935), Colonel Harrington was named Assistant Administrator of the WPA in 1935; he was named Administrator in 1938 when Harry L. Hopkins left the WPA. His position was retitled Commissioner when the Works Progress Administration became the Work Projects Administration.
  • Harry Lloyd Hopkins (1890-1946) – A social worker, Hopkins was appointed director of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration in 1933. With bold plans and unfailing energy, he quickly took over the massive Federal relief efforts, culminating in the creation of the WPA in 1935. In December 1938, he was named Secretary of Commerce and held the post for two years. A close friend of FDR, Hopkins helped manage his 1940 campaign and tapped to lead the Lend-Lease program with the United Kingdom in 1941. Throughout the war, Hopkins remained FDR’s closest advisor.
  • Howard Owen Hunter (1896-1964) – Hunter was successor to Francis C. Harrington as Commissioner of the WPA (acting Commissioner, 1940; Commissioner, October 1941-1943).
  • Harold Le Clair Ickes (1874-1952) – An important member of the New Deal, Ickes, as head of the Public Works Administration (1933-1938) oversaw the construction of billions of dollars worth of Federal buildings, many of which were adorned with New Deal art.
  • Michael Lenson (1903-1971) – Director of NJ mural projects for the WPA. (his website - – has much more information)
  • Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (1891-1967) – Secretary of the Treasury (1934-1945), Morgenthau and his first wife, Elinor (d. 1949) were great supporters of the arts. A good friend of FDR’s since the 1920s, Morgenthau was a direct line to the president from Edward Bruce’s Section until the Section was placed under the Federal Works Agency (1939).
  • Thomas C. Parker (1905-1964) – Assistant Director of the WPA/FAP (1935-1940). During the critical 1939-1940 period, Parker served as acting director while Holger Cahill was on sabbatical to work on the New York World’s Fair. Parker left the WPA/FAP to become director of the American Federation of Arts (1940-1952).
  • Christian J. Peoples - Director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Procurement. Peoples was Edward Bruce’s direct supervisor.
  • Mrs. Increase Robinson - Born Josephine Dorothea Reichmann in Chicago, IL on April 2, 1890. (Her parents were Frank Joseph Reichmann, a transportation official, and Josephine Lemos, an artist in a long line of artists.) A graduate of Hyde Park High School, she was the Vice President of her high school class (Class of 1909). She took the name Increase Robinson after the death of her first husband, Philip Increase Robinson. She was a member of the Chicago Art Club and the Chicago Society of Arts. She worked as a painter, teacher, lecturer, gallery owner, and State Director of the Federal Art Project in Illinois between 1933 and 1938. Controversial and autocratic during her years on the FAP, she was the frequent focus of the Chicago Artists’ Union for her handling of the artists as well as her financial practices. In March 1938 she was finally removed as State Director of the Illinois FAP and replaced by George Thorpe. (excerpt from interview with Dewey Albinson as it relates to his experience with Mrs. Robinson) - biography
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) – It took some time for FDR’s promise of a New Deal to eventually reach America’s artists, but when it did, it was on a scale never before seen in governmental patronage of the arts. His key advisors included Henry and Elinor Morgenthau, George Biddle, Edward Bruce, and FDR’s wife Eleanor. (Additional biographical information)
  • Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) – A frequent speaker or guest at important gatherings or exhibition openings, Eleanor Roosevelt gave generously of her time and prestige to the New Deal arts projects.
  • Lincoln Rothschild (1902-1983) – Artist and art administrator. Director of the Index of American Design (1937-1941).
  • Edward Beatty Rowan (1898-1946) – Art administrator. Rowan and Forbes Watson were second in importance to Edward Bruce in the Section. Working closely with Bruce on all aspects of the program, Rowan oversaw much of the daily work of the Section.
  • Nikolai Sokoloff (1886-1965) – National director of the Federal Music Project (1935-1939).
  • Brehon Burke Somervell (1892-1955) – A graduate of West Point (1914), Somervell quickly found his niche transporting supplies to American troops during World War I. Working on a number of engineering and supply projects after the war, he was named head of the New York City WPA in 1936. A tough administrator and no friend of the arts, Somervell’s tenure was marked by controversy, protest, and, on the part of the artists, unbridled hate. His cutting of wages and employment allocations and the destruction of a WPA/FAP mural at Floyd Bennett Field for supposed Communist propaganda made him an easy target for the artists. He returned to military duty in November 1940.
  • Forbes Watson (1880-1960) – Art critic and administrator. Watson was one of Edward Bruce’s closest advisors on the Section. His numerous articles in the art and popular presses reinforced the Section’s image as the “quality” federal art program.
  • Ellen Sullivan Woodward (d. 1971) – Joining the FERA in 1933, Woodward took over control of Federal One from Jacob Baker in July 1936 and remained in charge of the projects through December 1938. Woodward was responsible for overseeing the restructuring of Federal One as the needs and goals of the WPA as a whole were modified.

(Source: The New Deal Fine Arts Projects – a Bibliography, 1933-1992, Martin R. Kalfatovic, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., Metuchen, N.J. & London (1994), pp. 367-373.