In the 1930s, agricultural practices that replaced native prairie grasses with cash crops such as wheat and corn, combined with overgrazing cattle by ranchers, turned out to have devastating consequences for farm families, centered initially in Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. An extended multi-year drought prompted wind erosion that sent topsoil blowing black-dust clouds across the unobstructed plains as far east as New York and Washington, DC.
Today’s post features four black-and-white photographs each by Arthur Rothstein and Dorothea Lange from the Library’s Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection. Rothstein’s four, from March 1936, capture the blowing dust and the stark desolation on abandoned farms in Texas and Oklahoma. Lange’s four show the migrant refugees encamped in California, having fled their farming lives, looking for work, shelter, and a second chance to make a go of it. Rothstein and Lange’s photos, augmented by their captions — his brief and simple; hers longer, detailed, and descriptive – tell the Dust Bowl story clearly, concisely.
- View more of the pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944 in the Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection. If you’re at a loss on how to begin exploring this daunting collection of some 175,000 digitized black-and-white film negatives, the annotated photographic series from Documenting America presents a guided next step. Seven portfolios are available as web documents from Documenting America, 1935-1943, a 1988 book edited by Carl Fleischhauer and Beverly Brannan.
- In Voices from the Dust Bowl: The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, listen to ethnographic field recordings of residents of Farm Security Administration (FSA) migrant work camps in central California in 1940 and 1941.
- Study the extensive resources for teaching and learning about The Great Depression. The Library of Congress offers classroom materials and professional development to help teachers effectively use primary sources from the Library’s vast digital collections in their teaching.