In the midst of the Great Depression, a nationwide jobs program known as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was established to put millions of Americans back to work between 1935 and 1943. In addition to hiring workers to build roads, dams and bridges, the WPA set unemployed artists to work creating murals, paintings, sculptures and graphic works of art. From the WPA’s poster division, more than 2 million silkscreen, lithograph, and woodcut posters were produced and distributed nationwide. Both functional and decorative, the posters expressed a wide range of self-improvement messages designed to engage viewers through a mix of bold graphics and limited text.
Among the broad variety of poster topics, hundreds with public health messages were produced to draw attention to diseases and their risk factors, and to promote healthy behavioral change. The posters cautioned citizens about the scourges of the time including tuberculosis, diphtheria and syphilis. In addition, child care, proper nutrition and healthy habits were frequently depicted.
In a new Falk Library exhibit, Public Health Posters from the Great Depression, these visually compelling posters provide an historic snapshot of the foremost public health concerns during the WPA era. The exhibit will be on display in the lobby outside the Falk Library entrance through April 30.
Information for this article was derived from the Library of Congress, the National Library of Medicine and the Posters for the People Web sites, where you can learn more about the history of WPA posters.