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Prints and Photographs Division



Graphic Journalism and Illustration
Photojournalism Collections
Documentary Surveys
Civil War Photographs
arrow graphicFSA/OWI
Regional Architectural Surveys
Edward S. Curtis
Advertising and Propaganda
Pictures: Business and Art
Design Collections
Organizations' Records
Personal Papers



Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI)
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Wife of evicted sharecropper, New Madrid County, Missouri. Arthur Rothstein. 1939, Jan. Prints and Photographs Division.
bibliographic record

President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Resettlement Administration, later the Farm Security Administration, to assist dislocated farmers. The agency's “Historical Section” aided in this effort by documenting the need for agricultural assistance and recording the results of the agency's efforts to address that need. Under the direction of Roy Stryker, the head of the photographic unit, the documentation effort went further than that. Images in the Farm Security Administration/ Office of War Information (FSA /OWI) Collection (164,000 black-and-white film negatives, 107,000 black-and-white photographic prints, and 1,610 color transparencies, 1935-45) show:

  • Americans at home, at work, and at play, with an emphasis on rural and small-town life
  • the adverse effects of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and increasing farm mechanization
  • displaced people migrating West or to industrial cities in search of work
  • America's mobilization for World War II

Coverage of Women's Daily Lives

Because the FSA and OWI photographers concentrated on the daily lives of ordinary people all over the United States during the 1930s and 1940s, the images offer an unparalleled resource for glimpsing:

  • family life
  • living quarters
  • personal grooming
  • paid and unpaid labor
  • recreational activities
  • religious and organizational life.

Although biographical details on the subjects of the images are seldom available, the collection encompasses many images of African American women, substantial documentation of Hispanic women in the Southwest, and women of various other ethnicities.

As the photographers shifted from documenting economic and agricultural crisis to promoting the war effort, they gave concerted attention to recording the lives of members of various ethnic groups and the entry of women into the workforce.

The Photographers

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Girls in two of the long line of showers at Idaho Hall, Arlington Farms, a residence for women who work in the U.S. government for the duration of the war. Esther Bubley. 1943 June. Prints and Photographs Division.
bibliographic record

The collection includes the work of several outstanding women photographers, including:

  • Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
  • Esther Bubley (1921-1998)
  • Marion Post Wolcott (1910-1990)
  • Marjorie Collins (1912-1985)

It also includes work by well-known male photographers such as:

  • Gordon Parks
  • Walker Evans
  • Russell Lee
  • Jack Delano
  • John Vachon
  • Arthur Rothstein
  • John Collier

The division also holds the unit's written records. It is not always possible to trace the intentions or working methods of the photographers in these records, since the photographer may never have committed such information to paper or the paper on which it was written may not have been preserved at the unit headquarters. Nevertheless, the written material does provide insight into the operations of the photographic unit in a way that few other photo archives do.

For further information, see the collection profile: For rights information, see (black-and-white negatives) and (color transparencies).

Searching the Collection

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Jeannette Poirier looking at photograph of baking in file cabinet drawer at the Washington office of the Overseas Branch of the U.S. Office of War Information. 1945. Prints and Photographs Division.
bibliographic record

There are several ways to search the overlapping elements (photographic prints and negatives) in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection:

PPOC: Brief online records based on caption cards drafted in the 1940s have been created for the more than 171,000 FSA/OWI negatives.

  • The collection has two listings in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog: one for the black-and-white negatives and one for the color transparencies. The records are also searchable through American Memory (see: America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA/OWI, 1935-1945).
  • Digital images accompany the records.
  • There is an extra PPOC search feature for the black-and-white negatives. Negatives that were not printed by the agency did not get caption cards, so the only way to see these “untitled” images is to link from an image of interest to images that neighbor it in the file, since neighboring images are frequently from the same photographic session.
  • Many records include a reference to the classification number under which the corresponding photographic print is filed and the LOT with which the image is associated (see below).

FSA/OWI Reading Room File: Approximately 88,000 of the original black-and-white photographic prints (consisting of 77,000 images produced by photographers under Roy Stryker's direction, about 11,000 of the prints acquired from other sources, and a few photographs that were not included in the microfilmed LOTs) are available for searching in the Prints and Photographs reading room.
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Sorting and packing tomatoes at the Yauco Cooperative Tomato Growers Association, Puerto Rico. Jack Delano. 1942 Jan. Prints and Photographs Division.
bibliographic record

  • The prints are organized by broad geographic regions (such as northeastern states or southern states) and subdivided by subject-classification numbers representing what individual images show. Examples:
    • Women Sawmill Workers is .55445
    • Housework is .45
  • Photographic prints produced under the auspices of FSA were interfiled with those produced by the OWI.
  • A published microfiche set reproduces the FSA/OWI Reading Room File: America 1935-1946: The Photographs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Security Administration, and the U.S. Office of War Information, Arranged by Region and by Subject (Cambridge, England: Chadwyck-Healey; Teaneck, N.J.: Somerset House, 1980); 1,637 microfiches.

LOTs: Before the photographic prints were placed in the Reading Room file, they were organized into LOTs and microfilmed. A LOT was defined for this purpose as a “set of prints which it is desired to keep together . . . usually because it is a ‘story’ conceived and photographed as an interpretive unit.”

  • Use the Divisional Catalog to find LOTs by photographer, specific geographic location, and by broad subject headings. Information in the LOT catalog records generally includes the place, date, photographer, agency for which the images were made, and a summary of the visual subject matter.
  • Printed listings of the LOTs by photographer and by state are also available. The listings include information given on the catalog cards and cite the microfilm reel, if any, on which the LOT is found.
  • The LOTs vary greatly in size. Examples:
    • Lot 345 consists of 97 photographs made by Dorothea Lange in 1937 showing migrants in Imperial Valley, California
    • LOT 1759 is made up of six photos made by Howard Liberman in May 1942, showing white and African American women making uniforms in a U.S. Army quartermaster depot in Philadelphia. The photographs were made for the Office of Emergency Management, which eventually merged with the Office of War Information.
  • The majority of the LOTs are available only on microfilm. About four hundred LOTs were not microfilmed. These are kept in storage areas, and may be used by researchers in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room.
  • The Library of Congress does not lend FSA/OWI microfilm on Interlibrary Loan, but major research libraries may have acquired all or sections of the microfilm set.

Go to the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC)

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