About the Book
Among FDR’s most important New Deal programs were those created to address rural poverty and a depressed farm economy. In 1935, several such programs were consolidated into the Resettlement Administration, which in 1937 became the Farm Security Administration (FSA). For the next six years, the FSA stayed at the center of a turbulent battle over the shift from regional to national authority. One tool the FSA used to defend itself against political attacks was its Photographic Section, under the direction of Roy Stryker.
Stryker, who was once referred to as “the press agent of the underprivileged,” directed a team of photographers who documented American life in the thirties, capturing images of the old ways while seeking to justify a new agricultural order. The photos they took were used to build up popular support for the FSA and the New Deal. Seven of these photographers traveled in Missouri and produced a collection of over 1,250 pictures. Drawing on those photographs, A Portrait of Missouri, 1935-1943
chronicles the photographers’ work, the programs they sought to promote, and slices of life they captured in Missouri during this time.
Small town life, desperate farm conditions, urban renewal, and the 1939 sharecroppers’ strike are all brought to life in these intriguing photos. However, A Portrait of Missouri, 1935–1943
is more than a picture book. Through its introductory essay and the text that accompanies the photos, the book traces the changing nature of agriculture in the early part of the twentieth century and recounts the effects of the depression on Missouri. The photographs from the FSA file help the reader to examine how social and economic changes were tied to demands for political changes, and to consider the intended and actual effects on Missourians of the national government’s policies.
Political realities, including limited resources that allowed the FSA to serve only a fraction of the population that sought aid, and organized opposition, based in part on class and race, limited the achievements of the FSA. Sixty years after its demise, the FSA is still seen as a savior by some and a bedeviler by others. A Portrait of Missouri, 1935-1943 helps the reader better understand the debate over the FSA, while providing a unique glimpse of midwestern American life in the 1930s.
Paul E. Parker is Professor of Political Science at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.
"The photographs are engrossing. They show the efforts of the Farm Security Administration to illustrate the problems of the 1930s and the results of the programs designed by the New Deal to address these problems. More than simply being a vehicle of persuasion, however, these photographs document the way Missourians lived during the period."—Lawrence Christensen