Archives & Special Collections
The Pennsylvania Museum Extension Project
In response to the widespread unemployment caused by the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelts administration initiated the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The Museum Extension Project (MEP) was a
sub-agency of the WPA's Professional and Service Division. It provided funds for artists to produce three-dimensional objects and printed materials that were used as visual aids in tax-supported schools, libraries and museums. The materials taught children about housing, food, clothing, art, transportation, industries, and natural resources. Children used the materials to create presentations that helped them learn while having fun. Pennsylvanias MEP was the most active of all
the states, perhaps because Martha Colt, the Director of the project, and a former school teacher, was the originator of the idea of hiring people to create educational aids.
In February, 1937, Shippensburg State Teachers College started receiving materials from MEP. An article in the Campus Reflector on February 17, 1937, describes puppets and marionettes used for acting out plays; a miniature coal mine and oil well; and housing such as a wigwam, a plank house with a totem pole, a Japanese structure, and an African hut. These items were displayed in the museum that occupied the lower level of what was then the new Ezra Lehman Memorial Library, now Huber Art Center. The museum was under the auspices of Clara Bragg, head librarian, and Leslie Krebs, director of the museum and teacher of visual education, nature study, and geography. The following week, February 24, an article reported on a presentation and puppet show in the chapel. Martha Colt showed color prints and explained how they were made. She also
explained that the miniature buildings used to teach the development of human housing required the training of workers like die-cutters who later were able to get jobs in industry. Between 1935 and 1943 the PA MEP created approximately one million objects to help children learn while annually providing jobs to an average of 1200 people who otherwise would have been unemployed.
In preparation for World War II, the government directed the artists and craftspeople to produce propaganda and training materials for the military instead of for schools. Although the Pennsylvania Museum Extension Project ended in 1943, the collections at Shippensburg University and the Shippensburg Historical Society remain as evidence of the venture.
The digitization for Shippensburg University collections -- photographing and scanning the models and scanning the lantern slides and posters -- is the work of SU Archives & Special Collections Intern Emmanuel Ekekwe, Spring, 2006. He also refurbished the models display and rescued the lantern slides from cigar boxes and rehoused them in acid free containers. The digital photographs of the Shippensburg Historical Society's models were taken by SU Archives & Special Collections Intern Danielle Watson, Spring 2008.