This unparalleled photographic record of American life between 1935 and 1942, a project of the Farm Security Administration (FSA), is the best known and most heavily used collection in the Prints and Photographs Division. It consists of over 270,000 photographs that document rural conditions, life in urban communities, and the domestic side of the war effort, taken by a gifted team of photographers, headed by Roy E. Stryker, that included Carl Mydans, Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Russell Lee, and Jack Delano. Their experience with new forms and techniques, in Stryker's opinion, did "for professional photography what the WPA Theatre was doing for the stage." In the past decade over a dozen major books based on the FSA collection have been published, along with a microfiche edition of selected photographs.
The circus come to Klamath Falls, Oregon. A July 1942 photograph by Russell Lee. Farm Security Administration Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.
The photographic project of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) resulted in an unparalleled record of American life between 1935 and 1942. Over 270,000 FSA photographs document life in urban communities, rural conditions, and the domestic side of the war effort. This photograph by Marjory Collins was taken in the composing room of the New York Times. Farm Security Administration Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.
CAPTION: J. H. Parhem, barber and notary public, at work in Centralhatchee, Georgia, April 1941. Photograph by Jack Delano. Farm Security Administration Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.
In 1942 Stryker's unit became part of the Publications Bureau of the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI), an agency which Archibald MacLeish served as an assistant director while he also was Librarian of Congress. In September 1943, Stryker resigned, but on the first day of 1944, the Library of Congress assumed custody of the FSA photo archive and the rest of the OWI photo file. In the book In This Proud Land: America 1935-1943, Nancy Wood quotes Roy Stryker about what happened: "Toward the end, there was strong pressure from the government to destroy the entire file, negatives included. For a time it looked like everything would be lost. Then my old friend Archibald MacLeish appeared as head of the Library of Congress. I had always wanted the collection to go there and so it did."
An FSA photograph of Pittsburgh by Walker Evans, December 1935. Farm Security Administration Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.
A Japanese-American cleaning a cemetery before being evacuated under the U.S. Army War Emergency Act. San Juan Bautista, California, May 1942. Photograph by Russell Lee. Farm Security Administration Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.
This painting of Gepetto by Robert Sheridan was for the Los Angeles production of Yasha Frank's stage version, first presented at the Beaux Arts Theatre in 1937. Library of Congress Federal Theatre Project Collection at George Mason University Libraries, Fairfax, Virginia.
Between 1939 and 1946, most of the "product materials" generated by the theater project came to the Library of Congress and most of the administrative records were sent to the National Archives. The sudden end of the Library of Congress Project in 1941 meant that most of the Library's materials remained unprocessed, including the sizable (fifty-six file cabinets, forty-two packing crates) Vassar College Loan Collection of FTP materials, an endeavor headed by Hallie Flanagan both before and after her theater project career. With the exception of most of the music manuscripts and many posters, all added to the general collections of the Library of Congress, most of the Library's Federal Theatre Project material was sent to storage at Middle River, Maryland, in 1954. Ten years later this storage collection was placed on permanent deposit at George Mason University, where a Federal Theatre Project Research Center was established with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Library of Congress Collection at George Mason University includes over 5,000 play scripts, 2,500 radio scripts, 25,000 photographs, 350 scene designs, and 750 production notebooks, plus blueprints, posters, programs, and play reader's reports. In addition to organizing the material, the research center is conducting oral history interviews with persons formerly connected with the theater project. Many items from this collection are reproduced in Free, Adult, Uncensored: The Living History of the Federal Theatre Project (1978), edited by John O'Connor and Lorraine Brown.
The Library of Congress Music Division has a large collection of miscellaneous musical scores and orchestrations performed for Federal Theatre Project productions.
The American Imprints Inventory, a record of imprints from early American books, pamphlets, and broadsides, began operating as a Historical Records Survey project in 1937. It was directed by Douglas C. McMurtrie at the Chicago HRS office. Two products were expected: a file or union catalog of title slips representing the holdings of American libraries and a series of published checklists of state or city imprints within specific time periods. It was agreed in 1938 that the file eventually would come to the Library of Congress. Approximately fifteen million typed slips had been accumulated by March 1942 when work ceased and ownership of the file was formally transferred to the Library. "To protect this valuable file against any possible war damage," it was kept at the Wisconsin State Historical Society until February 1945, when it was finally shipped to Washington. By then forty-nine checklists of state publications had been published, all based on information in the massive file.
Graduate students from the library school at Catholic University were the file's major users at the Library of Congress, compiling forty imprint checklists which were added to the Library's collections. In 1957 the Library deposited all title slips for pre-1801 publications at the American Antiquarian Society at Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1970 Scarecrow Press, publisher of the Checklist of American Imprints, requested that the file be transferred to a nearby library. No longer able to provide adequate space for the 150 American Imprints Inventory file cabinets, the Library agreed, as long as the files would remain accessible to all researchers. Late in 1970 the American Imprints Inventory was placed on deposit at the Rutgers University Library, the Kilmer Area Library, Piscataway, New Jersey.
As part of the inventory, the texts of broadsides located in various American libraries were copied and filed chronologically by state. The estimated seventy-five thousand sheets containing this textual information are in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
This photograph of the Washband-Twitchell House, built in Oxford, Connecticut, about 1767, was made as part of the Federal Writers' Project's census of old Connecticut buildings. The building was once an inn run by Joshua Washband, Jr. Architectural Collections, Prints and Photographs Division.
Changing a tire in Washington, D.C. Photograph taken in May 1942 by John Collier. Farm Security Administration Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.