Recently, photo historian Mary Jane Appel came across an interesting connection within our collections. She graciously agreed to share findings from her research in the guest post below.
On a sunny August day in 1938, Russell Lee snapped this photo of Roy Stryker on a downtown city street. At the time, Stryker directed a documentary photography project within the Farm Security Administration (FSA) that chronicled America’s rural problems and the New Deal programs designed to alleviate them. Using a 35mm camera–all the rage in the thirties–Lee captured Stryker in his jacket and tie, a casual portrait of a government administrator.
But Stryker was also a veteran. During World War I he joined the American Expeditionary Forces as a Private First Class in E Company, 135th Infantry. He served nine months in France and was honorably discharged a month after the Armistice.
And two decades later, as World War II approached, he rejoined the fight–first by creating images for the FSA to motivate and mobilize the country during the Defense buildup, then with the advent of war by providing affirming pictures for the publicity objectives of the Office of War Information (OWI).
Stryker once remarked that to be an effective administrator he drew on his experience as a soldier in France. Back then, his captain ordered him to teach his company, squad by squad and man by man, the finer points of swearing during bayonet practice. Around 1940 a Stryker staff member elaborated: “When persuasion, cajoling and all else fail, in the eternal struggle over budgets, authorizations, and red tape which must be won to keep a unit operating efficiently, Stryker thinks of that bayonet dummy and cuts loose with everything he had in 1917 except the bayonet. Locally, in Washington, no small part of his effectiveness and fame rest upon that fact.”
Roy Stryker came by his fighting spirit honestly: his father, George, had also served his country, in the Civil War.
Like Lee’s portrait of Roy, George’s portrait–a formal one captured in tintype–embodies his era. Tintypes were lightweight, inexpensive, and quick to produce, qualities that made them attractive to Civil War soldiers. George posed with a sidearm and musket–that may have been his, or may have been the photographer’s props–and wore a belted tunic, a cartridge strap with an eagle breastplate, and a kepi with a squared visor and sunken top that mirrored his facial expression.
The portrait was likely taken around October 1861, when sixteen-year-old George enlisted as a private in Company A of the 104th New York Volunteers (Wadsworth Guard). Ten months later George suffered severe head and facial wounds at the second battle of Manassas. After a lengthy recuperation he reenlisted, and in early July 1864 was promoted to corporal. Later that month on the picket line at Petersburg, he was wounded again. This time a shell fragment passed through his left leg, just above the knee, and he was shot in his right thumb, which had to be amputated. George was discharged for disability in April 1865 and married soon after. He and his wife had seven children; the youngest, Roy, was born in 1893.
Seventy-five years separate these portraits of teenaged George and his middle-aged son Roy. Their combined service spanned an impressive two centuries and three wars. We salute George and Roy Stryker, and all veterans who’ve served their country.
- George Stryker’s portrait in the Prints & Photographs Division is part of an earlier effort by the Library of Congress to increase its research picture collection of named Civil War enlisted men. Read about how the Library made copy photographs of these portraits from private collections during the centennial of the Civil War.
- Roy Stryker’s portrait by Russell Lee was until recently one of the 70,000 “untitled” and uncaptioned images in the FSA-OWI Collection. The Prints & Photographs Division embarked on a project to identify as many of these as possible. Read about the project in a previous blog post.
- View other photographs of Roy Stryker in the Prints & Photographs Division.
- Explore Roy Stryker’s landmark achievement, the FSA-OWI Collection in black-and-white and in color.
- Take this opportunity to familiarize yourself with the Veterans History Project which collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans.
- Learn about researching military service and pension records at the National Archives.
- Consult the Military History & Military Science resources included within the collected Bibliographies and Guides compiled by the reference librarians in the Main Reading Room.