Back to the Chalkboard: Schooltime Photos in the FSA/OWI Collection

Time to go back to school! The relaxing days of summer are giving way to busy schooldays for millions of children – and teachers – across the country, with many already at their desks and ready to tackle a new school year.

Photographers for the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information traveled all over the country in the late 1930s and early 1940s, documenting American life with their cameras. In the course of this work, they snapped photos of schools and classrooms in rural communities and in cities, including one-room wooden schoolhouses and stately brick buildings. Students walking to school, hopping on the bus, enjoying recess and studying hard are all part of the stories about schooltime told by the photographs of this era. Take a look at “back to school” in the selection of photos below:

Grade school, San Augustine, Texas. Photo by Russell Lee, 1939 April. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8a25899

Grade school, San Augustine, Texas. Photo by Russell Lee, 1939 April. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8a25899

Dead Ox Flat. Children get into school bus on a fall morning. Malheur County, Oregon. Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1939 Oct. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b35057

Dead Ox Flat. Children get into school bus on a fall morning. Malheur County, Oregon. Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1939 Oct. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b35057

Washington, D.C. Class in the Banneker Junior High School. Photo by Marjory Collins, 1942 Mar. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d45065

Washington, D.C. Class in the Banneker Junior High School. Photo by Marjory Collins, 1942 Mar. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d45065

Jacknife School, Gem County, Idaho. Eleven pupils, two of them children of families belonging to Ola self-help sawmill co-op. Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1939 Oct. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b35313

Jacknife School, Gem County, Idaho. Eleven pupils, two of them children of families belonging to Ola self-help sawmill co-op. Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1939 Oct. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b35313

Schoolchildren on circular swing, San Augustine, Texas. Photo by Russell Lee, 1938 Sept.-Oct. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8a25893

Schoolchildren on circular swing, San Augustine, Texas. Photo by Russell Lee, 1938 Sept.-Oct. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8a25893

School. Red House, West Virginia. Photo by Elmer Johnson, between 1935 and 1942. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b26981

School. Red House, West Virginia. Photo by Elmer Johnson, between 1935 and 1942. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b26981

Charlotte Court House, Virginia. Central High School. Social science class. Photo by Philip Bonn, 1943 June. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d31371

Charlotte Court House, Virginia. Central High School. Social science class. Photo by Philip Bonn, 1943 June. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d31371

Painting class in school, Westmoreland Homesteads, Pennsylvania. Photo by Ben Shahn, 1937. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8a17523

Painting class in school, Westmoreland Homesteads, Pennsylvania. Photo by Ben Shahn, 1937. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8a17523

Tip Estes' children boarding a school bus near Fowler, Indiana. Photo by Russell Lee, 1937 Apr. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b30308

Tip Estes’ children boarding a school bus near Fowler, Indiana. Photo by Russell Lee, 1937 Apr. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b30308

New York, New York. Class in Public School Eight on King Street, discussing a book entitled "We love America," brought to school by one of the pupils. Photo by Marjory Collins, 1943 Jan. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d24386

New York, New York. Class in Public School Eight on King Street, discussing a book entitled “We love America,” brought to school by one of the pupils. Photo by Marjory Collins, 1943 Jan. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d24386

Farm children walking to one-room schoolhouse with lunch pails, Nebraska. Photo by John Vachon, 1938 Oct. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8a03638

Farm children walking to one-room schoolhouse with lunch pails, Nebraska. Photo by John Vachon, 1938 Oct. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8a03638

Learn More:

Rural school children, San Augustine County, Texas. Photo by John Vachon, 1943 April. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsac.1a35427

Rural school children, San Augustine County, Texas. Photo by John Vachon, 1943 April. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsac.1a35427

3 Comments

  1. Marjorie Ann Skillman
    August 30, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Where are the projects, grade with work comparison levels for poor quality school work comparison

    Such as in Death at an early age, by Johnathan Kozol, 1963

  2. Elizabeth Osborn
    August 31, 2017 at 11:36 am

    I love these photos. Thanks for another wonderful post.

  3. karenza t wall
    September 3, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    lovely photos

    i never attended a school as small as those in the photographs, but some of the clothing, the furnishings, and the first school bus brought a rush of memories.

    and i grew up in india!

    humans are more alike than different, something to remember in these difficult times.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.