In one of its most controversial moves,
the Works Progress Administration decided to provide jobs
for unemployed writers, actors, artists, and musicians.
The social content of the books, plays, and murals
produced by federal projects was anathema to
conservatives, but the level of achievement appears very
high as the decades have passed. At its peak the Federal
Theatre employed 10,000 people, over half of them in New
York City. Twelve million people attended its
performances there. Under the Project, many theatre
companies sprang up throughout the country as well. Many
of the Federal Writers' state and local guides have been
reprinted in recent years.
Hallie Flanagan, who had gained attention with her work
at the Vassar Experimental Theater, headed the Federal
Theater Project. The Special Collections Library has some
of her correspondence with Agnes Inglis, the first
curator of the Labadie Collection, and with Professor
Kenneth Rowe of the English Department at the University
of Michigan, who promoted the plays of students in his
courses here and worked for ties with the Federal
Theater. Flanagan returned to Vassar in 1939, became Dean
and Director of Theatre at Smith College in 1945, and
retired in 1952.
Hallie Flanagan appeared less spirited when she was
admonished by the Dies Committee for such productions as
One Third of a Nation by seventeenth-century
playwright Christopher Marlowe. It was at this hearing
that Congressman Joe Starnes of Alabama asked if Marlowe
was a Communist and wanted to investigate him. See
Thirty Years of Treason: Excerpts from Hearings before
the House Committee on Un-American Activities, edited
by Eric Bentley (Viking, 1971).