Stark Depression-Era Photos of People Reading, From Shelters to Libraries


This month, Yale released an archive of thousands of Depression-era photos by iconic photographers who were commissioned by the government to document the effect of the hard times on the nation.

As they explain it:

In order to build support for and justify government programs, the Historical Section set out to document America, often at her most vulnerable, and the successful administration of relief service. The Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) produced some of the most iconic images of the Great Depression and World War II and included photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Arthur Rothstein who shaped the visual culture of the era both in its moment and in American memory. Unit photographers were sent across the country.

At Flavorwire, we’ve been poring through the archives to find some our favorite examples of people consuming culture even in a bleak period for the country. Here’s a collection of photos we found of people reading, in places that vary from schools to farms to mining shacks.

1942: Washington, D.C. Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, reading the Bible to her household.

Photographer: Gordon Parks

1936: Man reading to fellow inmates, homeless men’s bureau, Sioux City, Iowa. Photographer: Russell Lee

1938: Library at Greenhills school, Greenhills, Ohio

Photographer: John Vachon

1937: Man reading in restaurant, Washington, D.C.

Photographer: John Vachon

1939″ Girls of Lincoln Bench School study their reading lesson. Near Ontario, Malheur County, Oregon

Photographer: Dorothea Lange

1935: Children in new home on the Arthurdale project. Reedsville, West Virginia.

Photographer: Elmer Johnson

1940: Daughter of Pomp Hall, tenant farmer, reading about chickens in farm magazine. Creek County, Oklahoma.

Photographer: Russell Lee

1937: Gold miner reading in his shack. Two Bit Creek, South Dakota.

Photographer: Russell Lee

1939: Juanita Coleman , teacher and NYA (National Youth Administration) leader, listening to one of her pupils in adult class read. She has just learned, is eighty-two years old and best in class. Gee’s Bend, Alabama.

Photographer: Marion Post Wolcott

1941: Union members reading “Steel Labor” at the union hall in Midland, Pennsylvania.

Photographer: Jack Delano