20 rarely seen images that show the struggle of America’s farmers during the Great Depression

caption
Mrs. Gernie Marshall helps run her husband’s 115-acre farm.
source
Russell Lee/Library of Congress

October is harvest month, and with it comes the celebration of food and those who grow it.

In the course of American history, no one has documented the life of the farmer better than the photographers of the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information during the Great Depression.

Tasked by the US government to portray the poverty that had struck the nation, the FSA’s photographers focused their efforts on rural areas in the hope of gaining support for the resettlement of farmers who had been displaced by the Great Depression.

While many famous images came out of the FSA during this era, such as Dorthea Lange’s instantly recognizable Migrant Mother and Walker Evans’ Farmer Wife, there are troves of lesser-known images in the archive that is stored and kept by the Library of Congress. 170,000 of those photos recently became available to the public through Photogrammer, a web site developed by Yale University.

We’ve gathered 20 incredible, lesser-known portraits of the farmers who performed back-breaking work during one of the nation’s most trying times.


Farmers sit on bags of rice in a state mill in Abbeville, Louisiana in September 1938.

source
Arthur Rothstein/Library of Congress

Farmer Chris Ament stands on his wheat farm in the Columbia Basin, where he has farmed for 33 years. “I won’t live to get the benefits of the water, but I hope to be able to see it,” he said to the FSA.

source
Dorthea Lange/Library of Congress

A clover farmer works on a seed threshing machine in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana.

source
Carl Mydans/Library of Congress

This steelworker in Midland, Pennsylvania, also does some farming part-time.

source
Arthur Rothstein/Library of Congress

The FSA’s “rural rehabilitation” efforts transplanted farmers from futile land to areas with richer soil. Here, a rehabilitation client is pictured in Jefferson County, Kansas.

source
Arthur Rothstein/Library of Congress

Mrs. Gernie Marshall, near Ringgold, Iowa, is the wife of Gernie Marshall, a tenant of a 115-acre farm. At the time this picture is taken, there have been no crops for three years, and the family is thinking of moving to California.

source
Russell Lee/Library of Congress

Here’s a tenant farmer near Anniston, Alabama.

source
Dorthea Lange/Library of Congress

A farmer is seen in his tool house, near McLeansboro, Illinois.

source
Russell Lee/Library of Congress

Mrs. Morrison farms in the submarginal area of Rumsey Hill, near Erin, New York, in 1940.

source
Jack Delano/Library of Congress

Mr. Wright stands amidst the corn he has raised in Syracuse, Kansas.

source
Russell Lee/Library of Congress

A farmer is pictured on the front porch of his dilapidated home, south of Muskogee, Oklahoma. He’s rented for eleven years. The land is owned by an out-of-state woman, and the farmer reports that the agent has changed so often that no one ever takes any interest in the condition of the land or buildings.

source
Russell Lee/Library of Congress

Mr. Leatherman loads a sack of pinto beans into his cart in Pie Town, New Mexico. It is customary for the farmers to leave their beans at the warehouse during the winter months.

source
Russell Lee/Library of Congress

A sharecropper’s wife works the fields in New Madrid County, Missouri.

source
Russell Lee/Library of Congress

A sharecropper stands on his 20 acres of land near Bryan, Texas. He receives eight cents a day for hoeing cotton.

source
Dorothea Lange

A sharecropper is seen in Lauderdale County, Mississippi, in 1935.

source
Arthur Rothstein/Library of Congress

A former tenant farmer on a large cotton farm is now a tractor driver on the same farm in Bell County, Texas. He gets paid one dollar a day.

source
Dorthea Lange/Library of Congress

A farm woman works in fields along Route 79, just outside Ithaca, New York.

source
Jack Delano/Library of Congress

This man is one of the farmers whose land was optioned by the United States Resettlement Administration in Oneida County, Idaho.

source
Arthur Rothstein/Library of Congress

Here’s a rehabilitation client in Boone County, Arkansas, in 1935.

source
Ben Shahn/Library of Congress

A former tenant farmer from Texas is now working as a pea picker in Nipomo, California.

source
Dorthea Lange/Library of Congress