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.
Great to have more images of Stryker. Need to know much more about him and the work he did for the FSA, including more on the selection process that brought photographers like Russell Lee to the group.
Fascinating history with so much depth that can be explored with the images!
Thanks, so glad you enjoyed the post. The “Selected Bibliography and Related Resources” lists books, articles, and other resources about the FSA-OWI project and the many photographers who contributed to it.
Mary Jane Appel
To whomever spotted the portrait of Roy: good eye! Great to have.
Forgive me for going over the deep end — but out of curiosity, I used the Prints and Photos catalog’s great “Browse neighboring items by call number” tool to look at the, um, neighboring images in their filing order. (This is a great help to researchers and I hope can be maintained in any future interface redesign.) I know how the file aka call numbers work for 35mm negatives: you get a five-digit number (with leading zeroes in the database), followed by an “M” number for the negative’s position on a strip of (usually) five negatives. In this case, Roy is 11585-M5, the highest M number of strip 11585. Negative 11585-M4 is another shot made in Washington, DC. Meanwhile shots M1, M2, and M3 in the strip were made at the Southeast Missouri Farms, an FSA project in La Forge, Missouri, near the town of New Madrid. (Nice background piece here: http://allisonjvaughn.blogspot.com/2007/08/la-forge-missouri.html.) With this evidence, I set to speculating: Russ Lee was in Missouri and shot most of his final roll of 35mm at the farm project. He traveled to Washington and had two more frames on that roll to use up before it was ready to develop. He and Roy went to lunch and, en route, Russ snapped the streetcar (11585-M4) and the shot of Roy, thus using up the roll. This speculation, however, fails to account for the fact that the next strip in the file (11586) is also from La Forge, as are many more with higher strip numbers (as are many with lower strip numbers). Could the strip numbers have been assigned in random order, thus placing the last strip exposed in the camera smack dab in the middle of the series? Yikes! To solve this (_unimportant and arcane_) mystery, we need two more pieces of evidence. First, we would want to get the latent image edge numbers from the strips (added when Eastman manufactured the film), which would let us put them back into full-roll sequences (typically 36 frames long). Second, we would use internal evidence (what’s in the pictures) to assemble the likely shooting sequence–and find out if Roy really was lunch company at the end of the trip. Few will care . . . .
Dear Carl, Thanks for your comment, and for your eagle eye! Russell Lee did make multiple trips to Southeast Missouri Farms in 1938 – three in fact – and two of them did bookend his trip to Washington in August. So there is a possibility he used up the last two frames on this particular 35mm roll while in Washington. However, there’s another possible scenario: these two Washington images – Stryker (the M5 frame) and the streetcar (the M4 frame) — were not necessarily the last two frames on Lee’s roll, but could have been the first on a new roll, taken just before he left on his third trip to Southeast Missouri Farms. Thus another quirk of the FSA-OWI Collection: the M numbers on 35mm negatives do not necessarily reflect the order they were shot, but rather the order the lab numbered them. When a 35mm roll was sent in by the photographer, the lab cut the film into strips (usually–but not always–5-frame strips) and then numbered each strip. For example, the lab numbered this strip 11585. The lab then assigned each frame on the strip its own unique number: M1, M2, M3, M4, M5. Here’s the rub: some lab personnel counted from left-to-right emulsion side down, while others counted emulsion side up — the opposite direction. Thanks again for your comment and I’m glad you enjoyed the post.