The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression which started in 1930 and lasted until the late 1930s.
Industries that suffered the most included construction, agriculture as dust-bowl conditions persisted in the agricultural heartland, shipping, mining, and logging as well as durable goods like automobiles and appliances that could be postponed. The Depression also resulted in the mass migration of people from badly hit areas in the Great Plains and the South to places such as California and the North, respectively.
The Dust Bowl was a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the US and Canadian prairies during the 1930s; severe drought and a failure to apply dryland farming methods to prevent wind erosion caused the phenomenon. With insufficient understanding of the ecology of the Plains, farmers had conducted extensive deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains during the previous decade; this had displaced the native, deep-rooted grasses that normally trapped soil and moisture even during periods of drought and high winds. The rapid mechanization of farm equipment, especially small gasoline tractors, and widespread use of the combine harvester contributed to farmers’ decisions to convert arid grassland to cultivated cropland. During the drought of the 1930s, the unanchored soil turned to dust, which the prevailing winds blew away in huge clouds that sometimes blackened the sky. The Dust Bowl forced tens of thousands of families to abandon their farms. Many of these families, who were often known as “Okies” because so many of them came from Oklahoma, migrated to California and other states. The term came to be known in the 1930s as the standard term for those who had lost everything and were struggling the most during the Great Depression. The Dust Bowl exodus was the largest migration in American history within a short period of time. Between 1930 and 1940, approximately 3.5 million people moved out of the Plains states.
The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was created in the Department of Agriculture in 1937. It was a New Deal program designed to assist poor farmers during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. The photographs of the Farm Security Administration Photograph Collection form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944. This U.S. government photography project was headed by Roy E. Stryker. Roy Emerson Stryker (1893-1975) was an American economist, government official, and photographer. He employed such photographers as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, Jack Delano, Marion Post Wolcott, Gordon Parks, John Vachon, and Carl Mydans. Those photographers wanted the government to move and give a hand to the people as they were completely neglected and overlooked and thus they decided to start taking photographs in a style that we today call “documentary photography.” Under Stryker, the FSA adopted a goal of “introducing America to Americans.” His agenda focused on his faith in social engineering, the poor conditions among tenant cotton farmers, and the very poor conditions among migrant farm workers; above all he was committed to social reform through New Deal intervention in people’s lives.
Arthur Rothstein (1915 – 1985) was an American photographer. He is recognized as one of America’s premier photojournalists. During a career that spanned five decades, he provoked, entertained and informed the American people. His photographs ranged from a hometown baseball game to the drama of war, from struggling rural farmers to US Presidents.
Following his graduation from Columbia in 1934, Rothstein was invited to Washington DC by Roy Stryker, one of his professors at Columbia, to set up the darkroom for Stryker’s Photo Unit of the Historical Section of the Resettlement Administration (RA), which became the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1937. During the next five years, Rothstein shot some of the most significant photographs ever taken of rural and small-town America. He and the other FSA photographers were employed to publicize the living conditions of the rural poor in the United States.
In 1940 Rothstein became a staff photographer for Look magazine but left shortly thereafter to join the US Army as a photographer in the Signal Corps. In 1947 he rejoined Look as Director of Photography. He remained at Look until 1971 when the magazine ceased publication. Rothstein joined Parade magazine in 1972 as Director of Photography and remained there until his death.
Sources / More to Read:
Wikipedia: Great Depression
Wikipedia: Dust Bowl
Wikipedia: Farm Security Administration
Wikipedia: Roy Stryker
Wikipedia: Arthur Rothstein
Library of Congress: Arthur Rothstein
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WOMEN IN THE GREAT DEPRESSION