Chronology of the Farm Security Administration


1929 Onset of the Great Depression. Intensification of rural poverty that has been spreading the whole decade. Drop in agricultural prices since 1920. In response more investments in mechanization and thus more intensive farming. Results: many farmers must sell their land; sharecropping increases; over-farming leads to erosion. Sharecropping, under which the tenant farmer pays a portion of the crop as rent, spreads in the South.

1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt becomes President. His New Deal envisions a number of government programs for combating rural poverty. Foundation of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. Program: crop reduction with certain price guarantees; this means profits for the well-situated farmers and losses for the sharecropper families (in the South and Southwest 75% of all farmers). Many small farmers and sharecroppers must leave their farms and look for jobs as migrant workers.

1935 Foundation of the Resettlement Administration (RA). The Director is Rexford G. Tugwell, Professor for Economics at Columbia University and one of the closest advisers to the President. Program: granting low-cost loans and assistance for poor farmers and sharecroppers; erection of regional model settlements for the resettlement of migrant farmers and farm workers; construction of camps of migrant farm workers; recultivation of eroded land; controls for river pollution and flood protection measures. Setting up of the Information Division as a sub-department of the RA. Task: information on and promotion of government measures which are unpopular in wider circles in the U.S. Setting up of the Historical Section as a sub department of the Information Division. Task: photographic and sociological documentation of the work of the RA; pictorial in formation on rural and small-town living conditions. Head is Roy Emerson Stryker, who studied under Tugwell. Appointment of the photographer Arthur Rothstein, who had carried out technical photographic work for Stryker as a student at Columbia. Rothstein drafts technical and aesthetic guidelines for the photographic campaigns of the Historical Section and sets up for this purpose his own laboratory in 1935. Hiring of the photographers Carl Mydans(up to the summer of 1936), Walker Evans (up to September 1937) and others. Collaboration with the painter andphotographer Ben Shahn who is taken on by the Special Skills Division of the RA and is given the responsibility for murals, posters, etc. Employment of the photographer Dorothea Lange (with interruptions up to 1942).

1936 Hiring of the photographer Russell Lee.

1937 Incorporation of the up-to-then autonomous RA into the large United States Department of Agriculture and a name change to the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Tugwell leaves.

1938 Employment of the photographers Marion Post Wolcott, John Vachon, Jack Delano, John Collier.

1941 Criticism of the work of the FSA increases. The war becomes a major subject for the Historical Section: Stryker attempts to save the division with, for example, photos of armament factories. December: the U.S. enters the Second World War.

1942 Drastic budget reductions in the FSA. The Historical Section loses its independence and becomes a photographic division of the Of fice of War Information.

1943 Stryker resigns after having ensured the preservation of the Historical Section's archive of photographs.

1944 Transfer of approximately 270,000 negatives and 77,000 prints by the FSA photographers to the Library of Congress in Washington. A major portion of the negatives contain punch holes, an editing or censorship measure on the part of Stryker.


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