From 1935-1944, the Farm Security Administration — Office of War Information undertook the largest photography project ever sponsored by the federal government.
After a series of setbacks in the courts that repealed many of the First New Deal’s program, President Roosevelt pursued a new set of initiatives including the Resettlement Administration in 1935. It was charged with aiding the poorest third of farmers displaced by the depression and particularly focused on resettlement on viable lands and providing low-interest loans. Directed by Rexford Tugwell, a Columbia University economist, the RA came under immediate scrutiny. Realizing the battle for public opinion had begun, Tugwell hired his former student Roy Stryker to lead the Historic Section within the Information Division of the RA, which in 1937 was moved to the FSA.
In order to build support for and justify government programs, the Historical Section set out to document America, often at her most vulnerable, and the successful administration of relief service. The Farm Security Administration—Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) produced some of the most iconic images of the Great Depression and World War II and included photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Arthur Rothstein who shaped the visual culture of the era both in its moment and in American memory. Unit photographers were sent across the country. The negatives were sent to Washington, DC. The growing collection came to be known as “The File.” With the United State’s entry into WWII, the unit moved into the Office of War Information and the collection became known as the FSA-OWI File.
Of the 170,000 photographs in the collection, approximately 88,000 were printed and placed in the filing cabinets of the FSA-OWI. 77,000 photographs were printed by Stryker’s division and 11,000 prints collected from other sources. Paul Vanderbilt joined the FSA-OWI in 1942 and created a new organizing system for the collection. He developed the Lot Number system and Classification Tags system, which users can search the collection by on Photogrammar. In addition, the collection grew and now includes six different collections. The bulk of the collection is the Farm Security Administration Collection and the Office of War Information Collection (including Domestic Operations Branch and Overseas Operations Branch photograph files). Also included are the Office of Emergency Management-Office of War Information Collection that focuses on the News Bureau photographs, the American at War Collection that contains eighty photographs, the Portrait of America Collection that is organized around lots for foreign circulation. Because several of the included collections include photographs dating to 1946, the time period of the collection is 1935 - 1946. A special thank you to the Library of Congress for maintaining and cataloguing the collection.
According to the Library of Congress: "Most photographs in this collection are considered to be in the public domain; however, labels on a few images indicate that they may be restricted. Privacy and publicity rights may also apply." Please visit the LOC site for more information.