It’s sometimes said that “the past is a foreign country.” That may be the feeling you get when you look at these photographs below, of America during the Great Depression and the years immediately following.
The U.S. in the 1930s was a very different place, as the photos show. In terms of per capita income, the U.S. then was poorer than Mexico is today. The Civil Rights movement had not yet occurred, and Jim Crow laws still ruled the South. Women had been voting in national elections for fewer than two decades.
The photographers who snapped these images were charged with documenting America, often its poor and vulnerable communities. The project, sponsored by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information between 1935 to 1945, was meant to build support for government programs, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Resettlement Administration act of 1935, which aided the poorest third of farmers displaced by the Great Depression. It is the largest photography project ever sponsored by the U.S. government.
The Library of Congress has maintained and cataloged the collection, and Photogrammar, a site run by Yale University, now hosts 170,000 of the photographs.
The photos immediately below are some selected shots from New York, L.A., Washington, D.C., and Chicago. You can see more photos, including some from Texas, in the slideshow below.
A backyard near the Capitol, a neighborhood where both whites and blacks lived in Washington, D.C., in 1935 (click on the photos to enlarge them):
An aerial view of cars and streetcars in front of the Willard Hotel, at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, in Washington, D.C.:
People waiting in line for tickets outside Loew's Capitol movie theater in D.C.:
Boys play with a pigeon in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood:
Children playing in their backyard near the Capitol. Washington, D.C.:
A streetcar operator in Washington, D.C., in 1936:
Street vendors in New York City in 1938:
A nun takes up a collection outside of Macy's in New York City in 1939:
Children play under hanging laundry in an alley in the Bronx:
Young men hang out at 38th St. and 7th Ave. in New York City, 1936:
Children play on 61st St. in New York City in 1938:
Children in front of an apartment in Chicago in 1941:
Women dressed up for Chicago's 1941 Easter Parade:
Children playing "ring-around-the-rosie" in Chicago's "Black Belt," the South Side neighborhoods that were home to most of the African-American population:
A chicken farmer who received federal assistance during the Great Depression, in San Fernando Valley, Cal. in 1936:
Men trek out of Los Angeles county "because of police activity," according to the photographer:
You can see more images from the collection in the slide show below.
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