Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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The energetic federal effort to create work relief and expenditures to stimulate the economy after the Great Depression spawned the Historical Records Survey (HRS) under the umbrella of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). National Records Survey director Luther H. Evans promoted the idea through Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal bureaucracy. Evans later supervised Robert H. Slover, Oklahoma's survey project supervisor. As part of the Oklahoma Federal Writers' Project, the HRS officially began February 18, 1936, with Charles E. Hutchinson taking over as state director in January 1939. Although slow in getting started, Oklahoma's survey lasted until July 1942.

Initially, the HRS workers indexed records in the state capital, which ultimately revealed vast information on the functions and background of state agencies. Survey employees also catalogued the American Indian records at the Oklahoma Historical Society and then turned their attention to federal documents in the state's Veterans Administration, post offices, relief agencies, and federal courts. Workers next inventoried records in all seventy-seven counties. Because of the sheer volume of county records for the territorial and statehood periods, the county work dominated what the HRS accomplished. Much of the material is located in the Research Division of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

The Oklahoma records survey also compiled holdings on municipal records, church archives, and an inventory of private collections within the state. As part of the American Imprints Inventory antiquarians prepared an index to American imprints with early publication dates found in state libraries. Workers also produced an index of all local and state statutes and codes and started an assessment of newspapers and holdings of educational institutions. Diligent labor produced the first county records inventory report (Muskogee County) and the first county church records inventory (Bryan County) in the United States under the WPA Historical Records Survey project.

During its six-year existence in Oklahoma, the HRS employed approximately sixty Oklahomans, helped hone workers' research skills, improved environmental conditions for housing state records, produced guides to the records, and provided much-needed training for librarians and researchers. The project also encouraged the creation of a state archives department and pointed to the possibilities of what can be accomplished through federal, state, and local collaboration. Although Joseph Thoburn compiled county histories from the collected information, the resources of the historical records survey still await full utilization.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Blue Clark, "'To Preserve Local History:' The WPA Historical Records Survey in Oklahoma, 1936-1942," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 61 (Summer 1983). Loretta L. Hefner, comp., The WPA Historical Records Survey: A Guide to the Unpublished Inventories, Indexes, and Transcripts (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1980). Herbert Kellar, "An Appraisal of the Historical Records Survey of the Works Progress Administration," in Archives and Libraries, ed. A. F. Kuhlman (Chicago: American Library Association, 1939).

Blue Clark

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