I have been watching the stock markets and things are getting gnarly. I know that I can live off very little because I always have. I wonder about the many that are already affected by the low oil prices. I’m already receiving CVs from people who were making a significant amount of money in the fracking oil business. Some have already lost their homes. Saving money wasn’t a priority. There is nothing more salient that looking back at photos of the people who lived through the Great Depression.
August 1936. “Part of an impoverished family of nine on a New Mexico highway. Depression refugees from Iowa. Left Iowa in 1932 because of father’s ill health. Father an auto mechanic laborer, painter by trade, tubercular. Family has been on relief in Arizona but refused entry on relief rolls in Iowa to which state they wish to return. Nine children including a sick four-month-old baby. No money at all. About to sell their belongings and trailer for money to buy food. ‘We don’t want to go where we’ll be a nuisance to anybody.'”
A stroll through Shorpy‘s place on the internet is more than sufficient to understand how difficult times were. Look at their faces.
August 1936. “Example of self-resettlement in California. Oklahoma farm family on highway between Blythe and Indio. Forced by the drought of 1936 to abandon their farm, they set out with their children to drive to California. Picking cotton in Arizona for a day or two at a time gave them enough for food and gas to continue. On this day they were within a day’s travel of their destination, Bakersfield. Their car had broken down en route and was abandoned.” Medium-format negative by Dorothea Lange for the Resettlement Administration.
A one-room hut houses a family of nine in an open field between Camden and Bruceton, Tennessee, near the Tennessee River. The hut was built over the chassis of an abandoned Ford. Photograph by Carl Mydans, 1936.
To think that these people’s parents had lived through the pandemic only to have their children go through this rough chapter in life one generation later.
April 1936. “Farmer and sons walking in the face of a dust storm. Cimarron County, Oklahoma.” Perhaps Arthur Rothstein’s best known Dust Bowl image, and overall one of most memorable photographs to come out of the entire FSA/OWI program. Gelatin silver print by Arthur Rothstein.
Some people fared better than others.
May 1938. “Farm family, Scioto Farms, Ohio.” 35mm nitrate negative by Arthur Rothstein for the Farm Security Administration. UPDATE: This is Earl Armentrout and his family, government rehabilitation clients who were relocated by the Resettlement Administration to a new house in a cooperative farming project, a story repeated thousands of times for families who were forced off the land by crop failures during the Dust Bowl era.
No one was exempt from difficulties.
June 1938. Outskirts of El Paso, Texas. “Young Negro wife cooking breakfast. ‘Do you suppose I’d be out on the highway cooking my steak if I had it good at home?’ Occupations: hotel maid, cook, laundress.” Medium-format nitrate negative by Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration.
There was happiness.
August 1939. Three of the four Arnold children outside their farmhouse at Michigan Hill. The oldest boy earned the money to buy his bicycle. Thurston County, western Washington. Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
October 1939. “Mr. and Mrs. Wardlaw at entrance to their dugout basement home. Dead Ox Flat, Malheur County, Oregon.” Medium-format nitrate negative by Dorothea Lange for the Resettlement Administration.
I love Shorpy’s place. It’s not all sad like many of these photographs. It is history that you can purchase and keep as a reminder on the wall of then and now. These photographs give me hope that we are still a nation that is resilient and can overcome anything.