Great Depression Pictures

01
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The Most Famous Great Depression Picture

The famous picture of the Great Depression by Dorothea Lange, Mother of 7 Children.
"Destitute pea pickers in California... Mother of seven children... Age 32." A picture taken by Dorothea Lange. (circa February 1936). (Photo courtesy the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library)

The famous picture above has become an icon of the Great Depression. It was taken by photographer Dorothea Lange as she traveled with her new husband, Paul Taylor, to document the hardships of the Great Depression for the Farm Security Administration. 

Lange spent five years (1935 to 1940) documenting the lives and hardships of the migrant workers, ultimately receiving the Guggenheim Fellowship for her efforts.

Less known is that Lange later went on to photograph the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

02
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Wife and Children of a Sharecropper

Wife and children of a sharecropper during the Great Depression.
Wife and children of a sharecropper in Washington County, Arkansas. (Circa 1935). (Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

At the beginning of the 1930s, many living in the South were tenant farmers, known as sharecroppers. These families lived in very poor conditions, working hard on the land but only receiving a meager share of the farm's profits.

Sharecropping was a vicious cycle that left most families perpetually in debt and thus especially susceptible when the Great Depression struck.

03
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Two Children Sitting on a Porch in Arkansas

Two barefoot children sitting on a porch in Arkansas during the Great Depression.
Children of rehabilitation clinic. Marie Plantation, Arkansas. (1935). (Photo courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum)

Sharecroppers, even before the Great Depression, often found it difficult to earn enough money to feed their children. When the Great Depression hit, this became worse.

This particular touching picture shows two young, barefoot boys whose family has been struggling to feed them. During the Great Depression, many young children got sick or even died from malnutrition.

04
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A One-Room Schoolhouse

A one-room school in Arkansas during the Great Depression.
Farm Security Administration: School in Alabama. (Circa 1935). (Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

In the South, some children of sharecroppers were able to periodically attend school, but often had to walk several miles each way to get there.

These schools were small, often only one-room schoolhouses with all levels and ages in one room with a single teacher.

05
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A Young Girl Making Supper

A young girl making supper during the Great Depression.
Farm Security Administration: "Suppertime" for the westward migration. (Circa 1936). (Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

For most sharecropping families, however, education was a luxury. Adults and children alike were needed to make the household function, with children working alongside their parents both inside the house and out in the fields.

This young girl, wearing just a simple shift and no shoes, is making dinner for her family.

06
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Christmas Dinner

A man eating Christmas dinner with his children in Iowa during the Great Depression.
Farm Security Administration: Christmas dinner in the home of Earl Pauley near Smithland, Iowa. (Circa 1935). Picture from the FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

For sharecroppers, Christmas did not mean lots of decoration, twinkling lights, large trees, or huge meals.

This family shares a simple meal together, happy to have food. Notice that they don't own enough chairs or a large enough table for them all to sit down together for a meal. 

07
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Dust Storm in Oklahoma

Dust Storm in Oklahoma during the Great Depression.
Dust Storms: "Dust Storm Near Beaver, Oklahoma." (July 14, 1935). Dust Storms: "Dust Storm Near Beaver, Oklahoma." (July 14, 1935)

Life changed drastically for farmers in the South during the Great Depression. A decade of drought and erosion from over-farming led to huge dust storms that ravaged the Great Plains, destroying farms.

08
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A Man Standing in a Dust Storm

A man standing in a dust storm during the Great Depression.
Dust Storms: In 1934 and 1936 drought and dust storms ravaged the great American plains and added to the New Deal's relief burden. Picture from the FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

The dust storms filled the air, making it hard to breathe, and destroyed what few crops existed. These dust storms turned the area into a "Dust Bowl."

09
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A Farm Foreclosure Sale

A farm for sale sign during the Great Depression.
Farm foreclosure sale. (Circa 1933). (Picture from the FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

The drought, dust storms, and boll weevils that attacked Southern crops in the 1930s, all worked together to destroy farms in the South. Without crops to sell, farmers could not make money to feed their families nor to pay their mortgages.

Farm foreclosures were rampant during the Great Depression.  

10
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Migrant Worker Walking Alone on a California Highway

Migrant worker walking by himself on a California highway during the Great Depression.
Migrant worker on California highway. (1935). (Picture by Dorothea Lange, courtesy of Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum)

With their farms gone, some men struck out alone in the hopes that they could somehow find somewhere that would offer them a job.

While some traveled the rails, hopping from city to city, others went to California in the hopes that there was some farm work to do.

Taking with them only what they could carry, they tried their best to provide for their family -- often without success.

11
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A Homeless Tenant-Farmer Family Walking Along a Road

A homeless tenant farmer family walking along a road during the Great Depression.
Farm Security Administration: Homeless family, tenant farmers in 1936. (Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

While some men went out alone, others traveled with their entire families. With no home and no work, these families packed only what they could carry and hit the road, hoping to find somewhere that could provide them a job and a way for them to stay together.

12
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Packed and Ready for the Long Trip to California

A woman and child by the side of the over-filled car as they head to California during the Great Depression.
Farm Security Administration: farmers whose topsoil blew away joined the sod caravans of "Okies" on Route 66 to California. (Circa 1935). (Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

Those fortunate enough to have a car would pack everything they could fit inside and head west, hoping to find a job in the farms of California. 

This woman and child sit next to their over-filled car and trailer, packed high with beds, tables, and much more. 

13
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Okies Driving to California

Okies Driving to California during the Great Depression.
Farm Security Administration: migrants. (Circa 1935). (Picture by Dorothea Lange, from FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)

The many homeless farmers that headed to California flooded the state with migrant workers. Many in California, themselves struggling with the ravages of the Great Depression, did not appreciate the influx of these needy people and began calling them the derogatory names of "Okies" and "Arkies" (for those from Oklahoma and Arkansas, respectively).

14
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Migrants Living Out of Their Car

Migrants living out of their car during the Great Depression.
Migrants (1935). (Photo courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum)

Having left their dying farms behind, these farmers are now migrants, driving up and down California searching for work. Living out of their car, this family hopes to soon find work that will sustain them. 

15
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Temporary Housing for Migrant Workers

Migrant family near their temporary home during the Great Depression.
Migrant family looking for work in the pea fields of California. (Circa 1935). (Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

Some migrant workers used their cars to expand their temporary shelters during the Great Depression.

16
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Arkansas Squatter Near Bakersfield, California

Squatter near Bakersfield, California during the Great Depression.
Arkansas squatter three year in California near Bakersfield, California. (1935). (Photo courtesy the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum)

Some migrant workers made more "permanent" housing for themselves out of cardboard, sheet metal, wood scraps, sheets, and any other items they could scavenge. 

17
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A Migrant Worker Standing Next to His Lean-To

A migrant worker standing next to his lean-to during the Great Depression
Migrant worker living in camp with two other men, working on lean-to which is to be his sleeping quarters. Near Harlingen, Texas. (February 1939). (Picture by Lee Russell, courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Temporary housing came in many different forms. This migrant worker has a simple structure, made mostly from sticks, to help protect him from the elements while sleeping.

18
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18-Year-Old Mother From Oklahoma Now a Migrant Worker in California

18-year-old-mother from Oklahoma now a migrant worker in California during the Great Depression.
18-year old mother from Oklahoma now a California migrant. (Circa March 1937). (Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

Life as a migrant worker in California during the Great Depression was hard and rough. Never enough to eat and a tough competition for every potential job. Families struggled to feed their children. 

19
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A Young Girl Standing Next to an Outdoor Stove

A young girl standing next to an outdoor stove and washstand during the Great Depression.
Outdoor stove, washstand and other household equipment of migrant family near Harlingen, Texas. (Picture by Lee Russell, courtesy the Library of Congress)

Migrant workers lived in their temporary shelters, cooking and washing there as well. This little girl is standing next to an outdoor stove, a pail, and other household supplies

20
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View of a Hooverville

A view of a migrant worker's camp, also known as a Hooverville during the Great Depression.
Migrant workers' camp, outskirts of Marysville, California. The new migratory camps now being built by the Resettlement Administration will remove people from unsatisfactory living conditions such as these and substitute at least the minimum of comfort and sanitation. (April 1935). (Picture by Dorothea Lange, courtesy the Library of Congress)

Collections of temporary housing structures such as these are usually called shantytowns, but during the Great Depression, they were given the nickname "Hoovervilles" after President Herbert Hoover. 

21
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Breadlines in New York City

Long lines of people waiting in a breadline during the Great Depression.
Long line of people waiting to be fed in breadlines in New York City during the Great Depression. (circa February 1932). (Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library)

Large cities were not immune to the hardships and struggles of the Great Depression. Many people lost their jobs and, unable to feed themselves or their families, stood in long breadlines.

These were the lucky ones, however, for the breadlines (also called soup kitchens) were run by private charities and they did not have enough money or supplies to feed all of the unemployed.

22
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Man Laying Down at the New York Docks

Man laying down at the docks in New York during the Great Depression.
Works Progress Administration. New York, NY. Photo of Idle Man. New York City Docks. (1935). (Photo courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum)

Sometimes, without food, a home, or the prospect of a job, a tired man might just lay down and ponder what lay ahead.

For many, the Great Depression was a decade of extreme hardship, ending only with the war production caused by the start of World War II.