Throughout the Great Depression, the federal government employed photographers to document the need for New Deal programs and the extent of these programs' successes. Today, through the Internet, students can view this record of an era and see for themselves how Americans faced the challenge of those testing times.
Introduce students to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and its mission during the Great Depression. Established in 1935 as part of the New Deal, the WPA hired unemployed individuals for public works projects ranging from ditch-digging to producing plays. Though sometimes attacked as a "make work" program, the WPA is now credited with helping to stimulate recovery from the Depression by pouring billions of dollars into the national economy in the form of consumer purchasing power.
The "Image Library" of the New Deal Network includes documentary photographs of many WPA projects. From the "Image Library" index page, click on "Photo Series" under the "Miscellaneous" heading, then click "WPA Photoessays" to find a series of pictures recording a day in the life of "Lucille Normand, WPA Seamstress," taken in Chicago in 1940. As preparation for analyzing these photographs, have students fold a sheet of loose-leaf paper in half lengthwise and write "Observations" at the top of one column, "Inferences" at the top of the other. Explain that as they study each photograph, they will record details they can see under "Observations" and their interpretations under "Inferences."
The New Deal Network also offers an excellent lesson plan for study of Depression-era photographs of teenagers: click "Classroom Activities" on the site's homepage, then follow the "Lesson Plans" link to Stanlee Brimberg's "Rondal Partridge, NYA Photographer," upon which this lesson is partly based. Finally, any study of the Depression era can be enhanced by exploring the Federal Writers Project interviews available in the "American Life Histories" collection at the American Memorywebsite.
1 class periods