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West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State


West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State was part of a national guidebook series prepared by the Writers’ Project of the federal Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Researched and written by unemployed writers hired by the WPA, the Guide presents a useful summary of the history, literature, and folkways of the state, as well as a list of suggested tours. Today it is regarded as a West Virginia classic.

Because some writers in the Writers’ Project had radical backgrounds, including Bruce Crawford, the West Virginia director, conservatives looked upon the guidebook series with apprehension. In Washington, the House Un-American Activities Committee condemned the project. In West Virginia, Governor Homer Adams Holt, a conservative Democrat, sympathized with the HUAC and alleged that the West Virginia guide was ‘‘propaganda from start to finish.’’ WPA officials, fearful that Holt might refuse to cooperate with other WPA projects, tried to address his complaints about the manuscript, eliminating photographs and sections he found distasteful, including all of the chapter on labor history.

Eventually the dispute over the West Virginia manuscript was resolved after Holt left office in 1941 to be replaced by Matthew Mansfield Neely, a Democrat more sympathetic to labor and the New Deal. With Neely’s approval, the chapter on labor was restored and the West Virginia guide, one of the last of the national series to be published, finally appeared in 1941. West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State is a 559-page hardback. The book is divided into four parts. Part I provides general background on the state, Part II describes West Virginia cities, Part III offers tour ideas, and Part IV consists of a chronology with key dates in the state’s history and a bibliography.

Written by Jerry Bruce Thomas


  1. Thomas, Jerry Bruce. An Appalachian New Deal: West Virginia in the Great Depression. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998.

  2. West Virginia Writers' Project. West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State. New York: Oxford University Press, 1941.

  3. Prichard, Arthur C. 'In West Virginia I Had More Freedom': Bruce Crawford's Story. Goldenseal, (Spring 1984).

  4. Thomas, Jerry Bruce. 'The Nearly Perfect State': Governor Homer Adams Holt, the WPA Writers' Project and the Making of West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State. West Virginia History, (1993).

  5. West Virginia Writers' Program Papers. West Virginia & Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries.