Having been raised in the Deep South, I was accustomed to seeing religious signs during travels by car or pickup truck. Some signs bore succinct messages while others were far more word-filled, requiring a pullover to “take them in.” No road, whether asphalt, gravel, or dirt, was too rural, too remote, to happen upon them. I assumed they were endemic to the South but confined to the region. In locating religion-themed signs in the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Collection, I uncovered photographic confirmation of their presence as geographically far-flung as Idaho and Minnesota in the years of the Depression era.
While some religious signs are made of sturdy materials with crisp professional lettering, I am drawn to the handmade variety such as pictured (below, left) in the yard and attached to the Minneapolis front porch and the legible detail of one section on the right:
As seen above in Minnesota, the creators of religious signs often filled all available surface space. In contrast, the sign in the West Virginia cornfield (below) concisely exhorts passers-by to “Prepare to Meet God.” It points toward the heavens but may have been annually obscured as the corn grew tall:
The two photographs below combine faith-based themes with messages based on then-current issues such as land reclamation (left) and warnings against joining the war in Europe (right):
- Employ the unique FSA/OWI Collection Subject Index as an online access tool to locate more religious-themed photographs. Two arrangements are available: 1) alphabetical by subject words; or, 2) by corresponding classification numbers for each subject. For example, see more photos of Religious Signs (classification number .855) and related religious subjects such as Revival Meetings (class .85) and Itinerant Missionizing (class .8508).
- View Marion Post Wolcott’s August 1940 photographic series of members of the Primitive Baptist Church in Morehead, Kentucky, gathering at creek-side for a full-immersion baptism.
- See photographs of Church Buildings (Class .842) shot by the FSA/OWI photographers.