Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

Seldom-seen photos show what America looked like in the 1940s...in color

August 22, 2016 at 6:00 AM

Women employed as wipers in the roundhouse eat their lunch in the break room of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in Clinton, Iowa, in April 1943. (Jack Delano/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Taschen)
Shulman’s Market on N Street at Union Street SW in D.C. (Louise Rosskam/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Taschen)

The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was created in 1937 from an earlier agency named the Resettlement Administration, or RA. The RA had been created by a 1935 executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help struggling farmers and sharecroppers by providing loans, purchasing depleted farmland and resettling destitute families into government-designed communities.

Roosevelt tapped a former Columbia University economics professor, Rexford G. Tugwell, to lead the RA's efforts. In turn, Tugwell appointed one of his former students to head the RA's historical section. That former student was named Roy Stryker and the task given to him was to form a group of photographers who would be responsible for documenting hardships around the country, particularly across the Midwest and in California. Stryker's team of photographers would go on to produce several iconic images from that time, including Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" and Arthur Rothstein's "Fleeing a Dust Storm." The project is most well known for its black-and-white images. However, it also produced a sizable number of color images that are much more seldom seen.

A new book by Peter Walther, called "New Deal Photography. USA 1935-1943" (Taschen, 2016) brings together a comprehensive survey of the work done by the FSA, including that more rarely seen color work. From street scenes to pictures of field laborers and train yards, these images show us what the United States looked like in a bygone era, one rife with economic struggle. Here are a few of the incredible images produced by photographers Marion Post Wolcott, Jack Delano, John Vachon, Fenno Jacobs and Russell Lee.

Children at a rural school in San Augustine County, Tex., in October 1943. (John Vachon/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Taschen)
Barker at the grounds at the Vermont State Fair in Rutland in September 1941. (Jack Delano/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Taschen)
Children stage a patriotic demonstration in Southington, Conn., in May 1942. (Fenno Jacobs/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Taschen)
The Eagle Fruit Store and Capital Hotel in Lincoln in 1942. (John Vachon/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Taschen)
Homesteaders Faro and Doris Caudil, in Pie Town, N.M, in October 1940. (Russell Lee/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Taschen)
Migratory workers outside a juke joint in Belle Glade, Fla., in February 1941. (Marion Post Wolcott/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Taschen)
Workers on rented land near White Plains, Ga., in June 1941. (Jack Delano/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Taschen)
A store with live fish for sale, near Natchitoches, La., in July 1940. (Marion Post Wolcott/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Taschen)
General view of one of the yards of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in December 1942. (Theodore Jung/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Taschen)

More In Sight:

Heart-breaking photos show what it's like living in insane asylums in Indonesia

How one group of photographers saw America's Great Depression

How you can own a famous photograph free


Kenneth Dickerman is a photo editor. He previously worked as a photo editor at MSN in Seattle and TIME in New York City. Before that, he worked as a freelance photographer specializing in politics and conflict and his work appeared in The New York Times, TIME and US News & World Report among other publications.

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