President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Resettlement Administration (which became the Farm Security Administration in 1937), to assist dislocated farmers. The agency's "Historical Section" aided in this effort by documenting the need for agricultural assistance and recording the results of the agency's efforts to address that need. Under the direction of Roy Stryker, the head of the photographic unit, which shifted to the Office of War Information in 1942, the documentation effort went further than that. Images in the Farm Security Administration/ Office of War Information (FSA /OWI) Collection (about 175,000 black-and-white film negatives, 107,000 black-and-white photographic prints, and 1,610 color transparencies, 1935-45) show:
Because the FSA and OWI photographers concentrated on the daily lives of ordinary people all over the United States during the 1930s and 1940s, the images offer an unparalleled resource for glimpsing:
Although biographical details on the subjects of the images are seldom available, the collection encompasses many images of African American women, substantial documentation of Hispanic women in the Southwest, and women of various other ethnicities.
As the photographers shifted from documenting economic and agricultural crisis to promoting the war effort, they gave concerted attention to recording the lives of members of various ethnic groups and the entry of women into the workforce.
The collection includes the work of several outstanding women photographers, including:
It also includes work by well-known male photographers such as:
The division also holds the Historical Section's written records. It is not always possible to trace the intentions or working methods of the photographers in these records, since the photographer may never have committed such information to paper or the paper on which it was written may not have been preserved at the unit headquarters. Nevertheless, the written material does provide insight into the operations of the photographic unit in a way that few other photo archives do.
There are several ways to search the overlapping elements (photographic prints and negatives) in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection:
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC): Brief online records based on caption cards drafted in the 1940s have been created for the more than 171,000 FSA/OWI negatives.
The collection has two listings in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog: one for the black-and-white negatives and one for the color transparencies.
PPOC offers a search feature particularly designed for work with the black-and-white negatives. Negatives that were not printed by the agency did not get caption cards, so the only way to see these "untitled" images is to link from an image of interest to images that neighbor it in the file, since neighboring images are frequently from the same photographic session.
Many records include a reference to the classification number under which the corresponding photographic print is filed and the LOT with which the image is associated (see below). The classification scheme is available online, so that researchers can access the online images through the subject categories.
FSA/OWI Reading Room File: Approximately 88,000 of the original black-and-white photographic prints (consisting of 77,000 images produced by photographers under Roy Stryker's direction, about 11,000 of the prints acquired from other sources, and a few photographs that were not included in the microfilmed LOTs) are available for searching in the Prints and Photographs reading room.
LOTs: Before the photographic prints were placed in the Reading Room file, they were organized into LOTs and microfilmed. A LOT was defined for this purpose as a "set of prints which it is desired to keep together . . . usually because it is a 'story' conceived and photographed as an interpretive unit."