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April 20, 2018

25 Vintage Photographs Capture Daily Life of American Children During the Great Depression

During his 50 year career as a photographer, Arthur Rothstein documented a great variety of subjects, including baseball games, war, struggling farmers, and U.S. Presidents.

After his graduation from Columbia University, Rothstein’s former professor Roy Stryker, the head of the Photo Unit for the Resettlement Administration (which would later become the Farm Security Administration) made Rothstein the first staff photographer at the Resettlement Administration. Rothstein spent the next five years creating some of the most iconic images of rural and small-town America during the Great Depression (1935-1940).

Rothstein’s work for the FSA earned him $1,620 a year, with an allowance of 2 cents per mile and $5 a day for food and lodging. While on the job, Rothstein carried with him only what he needed.

During the five years that he spent working in this division for Stryker, Rothstein took around 80,000 images, many of them later becoming some of the most iconic images of the Great Depression. As he worked on producing these images over his five-year career at the FSA, Rothstein kept in mind that the documentary work that he was doing had “the power to move men’s minds.”

He used his documentary work as a way to teach others about life; how people live, work, and play, the social structures that people are a part of, and the environments in which they live in. As Rothstein said of documentary photography in his 1986 book entitled Documentary Photography, “The aim is to move people to action, to change or prevent a situation because it may be wrong or damaging, or to support or encourage one because it is beneficial.”

Family of resettlement farmer, Skyline Farms, Alabama, 1935

Children of sharecropper, North Carolina, 1935

Sharecropper's children, 1935

Son of a cotton sharecropper, Lauderdale County, Mississippi, 1935

Son of sharecropper who will be resettled on the Irwinville Farms Project, Georgia, 1935

Two of Mrs. Brown's grandchildren, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, 1935

Child of migratory fruit worker. Yakima, Washington, 1936

Daughters of a migratory family who are now working in the packinghouse at Belle Glade, Florida, 1937

Mrs. Hallett and Mrs. Weber with their children, Tompkins County, New York, 1937

Negro boy selling pecans by road, near Alma, Georgia, 1937

School at Skyline Farms, Alabama, 1937

The family of a migratory fruit worker from Tennessee now camped in a field near the packinghouse at Winter Haven, Florida, 1937

Young bean picker, Cambridge, Maryland, 1937

Child labor, cranberry bog, Burlington County, New Jersey, 1938

Family from Italian section of Philadelphia working in cranberry bog, 1938

Homemade swimming pool built by steelworkers for their children, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1938

Child labor in the onion field, Delta County, Colorado, 1939

Daughters of resettlement clients who have formed 4-H Club, Western Slope Farms, Colorado, 1939

Children at FSA camp, Weslaco, Texas, 1940

Nursery children at the Community Center, Red Hook housing development, Brooklyn, New York, 1942

Nursery school, feeding time, FSA camp, Sinton, Texas, 1942

Nursery school, FSA camp, Harlingen, Texas. Member of mother's committee watches, 1942

Nursery school, migratory worker's child, FSA camp, Sinton, Texas, 1942

Younger members of Drake family, FSA camp, Weslaco, Texas, 1942



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