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[Detail] Woman living with her family of four in an old street car.


Collection Overview

The 2,900 documents in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 chronicle vivid life stories of Americans who lived at the turn of the century. Narratives tell of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys West, of grueling factory work, and the immigrant experience. Writers hired by this Depression-era work project included Ralph Ellison, Nelson Algren, and many others.

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Special Features

These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.

Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
  • Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
  • The Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945

Related Collections and Exhibits

These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Also browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.

Other Resources

Recommended additional sources of information.

Search Tips

Specific guidance for searching this collection.

To search the collection by location, go to Select a Region and State. This screen provides guided searches by region of the United States. To find out how many interviews were registered in a particular state, go to States. Although interviews were conducted in twenty-four states, more states are mentioned in the life histories. Search by keyword to find items mentioning other locations.

For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.