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Occupying Summer

New Orleans kids kept cool and occupied during the 1930s.

The Summer Showers Program kicks off on Broad Street on July 7, 1939. Photo provided courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library.

Keeping kids and teens occupied during the long, hot summer days with no school has been a challenge for generations of New Orleanians. In the 1930s, the National Youth Administration stepped in to assist the Works Project Administration in finding job opportunities for needy youth.

In New Orleans during the summer of 1936, over 200 youths between the ages of 16 and 25 were employed on projects ranging from helping repair buildings in Audubon Zoo and the Jackson Barracks, to assisting on developments in City Park and at the Lakefront, to constructing steel bodies of garbage trucks. Jobs ran the gamut from messenger boys to cleaners to other light jobs, and they were paid between $12 and $23 per month, depending on their abilities and responsibilities.

This not only kept them out of trouble during the endless summer days, but it also taught them the realities of earning a livelihood and the value of hourly wages.
Younger children had to be kept busy as well, and the NYA and WPA joined with the New Orleans Fire Department, the Sewerage and Water Board and the Council of Social Agencies to implement the “Summer Showers” program. In the summer of 1936, the program started the summer with 28 weekly showers scattered across the city’s firehouses, increasing the number of them as the summer dragged on.

Streets would be closed, fire hydrants opened and fire hoses with special nozzles turned on for an hour or two. Kids could run and play and tire themselves out, being cooled off (and cleaned!) by the water in the process. The only real rule was that bathing attire was required by all.

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