Humanities › History & Culture The Story of the Great Depression in Photos Share Flipboard Email Print History & Culture The 20th Century People & Events Fads & Fashions Early 20th Century The 20s The 30s The 40s The 50s The 60s The 80s The 90s American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History Women's History View More By Jennifer Rosenberg Jennifer Rosenberg History Expert B.A., History, University of California at Davis Jennifer Rosenberg is a historian and writer who specializes in 20th-century history. Learn about our Editorial Process Updated on July 23, 2019 This collection of pictures of the Great Depression offers a glimpse into the lives of Americans who suffered through it. Included in this collection are pictures of the dust storms that ruined crops, leaving many farmers unable to keep their land. Also included are pictures of migrant workers—people who had lost their jobs or their farms and traveled in the hopes of finding some work. Life was not easy during the 1930s, as these evocative photos make plain. Migrant Mother (1936) George Eastman House Collection/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain This famous photograph is searing in its depiction of the utter desperation the Great Depression brought to so many and has become a symbol of the Depression. This woman was one of many migrant workers picking peas in California in the 1930s to make just enough money to survive. 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. The Dust Bowl Picture from the FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration Hot and dry weather over several years brought dust storms that devastated the Great Plains states, and they came to be known as the Dust Bowl. It affected parts of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas. During the drought from 1934 to 1937, the intense dust storms, called black blizzards, caused 60 percent of the population to flee for a better life. Many ended up on the Pacific Coast. Farms for Sale 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. Outside the Dust Bowl, where farms and ranches were abandoned, other farm families had their own share of woes. Without crops to sell, farmers could not make money to feed their families nor to pay their mortgages. Many were forced to sell the land and find another way of life. Generally, this was the result of foreclosure because the farmer had taken out loans for land or machinery in the prosperous 1920s but was unable to keep up the payments after the Depression hit, and the bank foreclosed on the farm. Farm foreclosures were rampant during the Great Depression. Relocating: On the Road Picture by Dorothea Lange, from FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration The vast migration that occurred as the result of the Dust Bowl in the Great Plains and the farm foreclosures of the Midwest has been dramatized in movies and books so that many Americans of later generations are familiar with this story. One of the most famous of these is the novel "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, which tells the story of the Joad family and their long trek from Oklahoma's Dust Bowl to California during the Great Depression. The book, published in 1939, won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie in 1940 that starred Henry Fonda. 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). The Unemployed Picture from the FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration In 1929, before the crash of the stock market that marked the beginning of the Great Depression, the unemployment rate in the United States was 3.14 percent. In 1933, in the depths of the Depression, 24.75 percent of the labor force was unemployed. Despite the significant attempts at economic recovery by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal, real change only came with World War II. Breadlines and Soup Kitchens Picture from the FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. Because so many were unemployed, charitable organizations opened soup kitchens and breadlines to feed the many hungry families brought to their knees by the Great Depression. Civilian Conservation Corps Picture from the FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration The Civilian Conservation Corps was part of FDR's New Deal. It was formed in March 1933 and promoted environmental conservation as it gave work and meaning to many who were unemployed. Members of the corps planted trees, dug canals and ditches, built wildlife shelters, restored historic battlefields and stocked lakes and rivers with fish. Wife and Children of a Sharecropper 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. Two Children Sitting on a Porch in Arkansas 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. A One-Room Schoolhouse 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. A Young Girl Making Supper 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. Christmas Dinner 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. Dust Storm in Oklahoma Franklin D. Roosevelt Library/National Records and Archives Administration 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. A Man Standing in a Dust Storm 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." Migrant Worker Walking Alone on a California Highway 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. A Homeless Tenant-Farmer Family Walking Along a Road 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. Packed and Ready for the Long Trip to California 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. Migrants Living Out of Their Car 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. Temporary Housing for Migrant Workers Photo courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum Some migrant workers used their cars to expand their temporary shelters during the Great Depression. Arkansas Squatter Near Bakersfield, California 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. A Migrant Worker Standing Next to His Lean-to 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-Year-Old Mother From Oklahoma Now a Migrant Worker in California 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 tough competition for every potential job. Families struggled to feed their children. A Young Girl Standing Next to an Outdoor Stove 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. View of a Hooverville 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. Breadlines in New York City 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. Man Laying Down at the New York Docks 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. Cite this Article Format mla apa chicago Your Citation Rosenberg, Jennifer. "The Story of the Great Depression in Photos." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/great-depression-pictures-1779916. Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2021, February 16). The Story of the Great Depression in Photos. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/great-depression-pictures-1779916 Rosenberg, Jennifer. "The Story of the Great Depression in Photos." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/great-depression-pictures-1779916 (accessed January 27, 2023). copy citation Watch Now: What Led to the Great Depression?