Farm Security Administration: Wikis


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Farm Security Administration logo.
Allie Mae Burroughs, a symbol of the great depression.
Photo of sharecropper Floyd Burroughs by Walker Evans.
Arthur Rothstein picture of a farmer and his two sons during a dust storm in Cimarron County, 1936.

Initially created as the Resettlement Administration (RA) in 1935 as part of the New Deal in the United States, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was an effort during the Depression to combat American rural poverty.

The FSA stressed "rural rehabilitation" efforts to improve the lifestyle of sharecroppers, tenants, and very poor landowning farmers, and a program to purchase submarginal land owned by poor farmers and resettle them in group farms on land more suitable for efficient farming. Critics, including the Farm Bureau strongly opposed the FSA as an experiment in collectivizing agriculture — that is, in bringing farmers together to work on large government-owned farms using modern techniques under the supervision of experts. The program failed because the farmers wanted ownership; after the Conservative coalition took control of Congress it transformed the FSA into a program to help poor farmers buy land, and continues in operation in the 21st century as the Farmers Home Administration.

The FSA is famous for its small but highly influential photography program, 1935-44, that portrayed the challenges of rural poverty.



The projects that were combined in 1935 to form the FSA started in 1933 as an assortment of programs tried out by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and later inside the Department of Agriculture under the Resettlement Administration following Roosevelt's 1935 executive order creating that agency.

Relief work

One of the activities performed by the RA and FSA was the buying out of small farms that were not economically viable, and the setting up of 34 subsistence homestead communities, in which groups of farmers would live together under the guidance of government experts and work a common area. They were not allowed to purchase their farms for fear that they would fall back into inefficient practices not guided by RA and FSA experts.[1]

The Dust Bowl in the Great Plains displaced thousands of tenant farmers, sharecroppers, and laborers, many of whom (known as "Okies" or "Arkies") moved on to California. The FSA operated camps for them, such as Weedpatch Camp as depicted in The Grapes of Wrath.

The RA and the FSA gave educational aid to 455,000 farm families during the period 1936-1943. In June, 1936, Roosevelt wrote: "You are right about the farmers who suffer through their own fault... I wish you would have a talk with Tugwell about what he is doing to educate this type of farmer to become self-sustaining. During the past year his organization has made 104,000 farm families practically self-sustaining by supervision and education along practical lines. That is a pretty good record!"[2]

The FSA's primary mission was not to aid farm production or prices. Roosevelt's agricultural policy had, in fact, been to try to decrease agricultural production to increase prices. However, when production was discouraged, the tenant farmers and small holders suffered most by not being able to ship enough to market to pay rents. Many renters wanted money to buy farms, but the Agriculture Department realized there already were too many farmers, and did not have a program for farm purchases. Instead they used education to help the poor stretch their money further. Congress however demanded that the FSA help tenant farmers purchase farms, and purchase loans of $191 million were made, which were eventually repaid. A much larger program was $778 million in loans (at effective rates of about 1% interest) to 950,000 tenant farmers. The goal was to make the farmer more efficient so the loans were used for new machinery, trucks, or animals, or to repay old debts. At all times the borrower was closely advised by a government agent. Family needs were on the agenda, as the FSA set up a health insurance program and taught farm wives how to cook and raise children. Upward of a third of the amount was never repaid, as the tenants moved to much better opportunities in the cities.[3]



The FSA resettlement communities appear in the literature as efforts to ameliorate the wretched condition of southern sharecroppers and tenants. However, those evicted to make way for the new settlers are virtually invisible in the historic record. The resettlement projects were part of larger efforts. to modernize rural America. "Modernization" is a complex process whereby a relatively specific set of assumptions and behaviors make other assumptions and behaviors "wrong," both morally and pragmatically. The removal of former tenants and their replacement by FSA clients in the lower Mississippi alluvial plain--the Delta--reveals core elements of New Deal modernizing policies. The key concepts that guided the FSA's tenant removals were: the definition of rural poverty as rooted in the problem of tenancy; the belief that economic success entailed particular cultural practices and social forms; and the commitment by those with political power to gain local support. These assumptions undergirded acceptance of racial segregation and the criteria used to select new settlers. Alternatives could only become visible through political or legal action--capacities sharecroppers seldom had. However, in succeeding decades, these modernizing assumptions created conditions for Delta African Americans on resettlement projects to challenge white supremacy.[4]

Photography program

The RA and FSA are well known for the influence of their photography program, 1935-1944. Photographers and writers were hired to report and document the plight of the poor farmer. The Information Division of the FSA was responsible for providing educational materials and press information to the public. Under Roy Stryker, the Information Division of the FSA adopted a goal of "introducing America to Americans." Many of the most famous Depression-era photographers were fostered by the FSA project. Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Gordon Parks were three of the most famous FSA alumni. The FSA was also cited in Gordon Parks' autobiographical novel, " A Choice of Weapons"

The photographers

The FSA photography group consisted of:
Charlotte Brooks, Esther Bubley, Marjory Collins, Harold Corsini, Arnold Eagle, Theodor Jung, Sol Libsohn, Carl Mydans, Martha McMillan Roberts, Edwin Rosskam, Louise Rosskam, Richard Saunders, Ben Shahn and

Photograph of Chicago's rail yards by Jack Delano, ca. 1943

Together with John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (not a government project) and documentary prose (e.g. Walker Evans and James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men), the FSA photography project is most responsible for creating the image of the Depression in the USA. Many of the images appeared in popular magazines. The photographers were under instruction from Washington as to what overall impression the New Deal wanted to give out. Stryker's agenda focused on his faith in social engineering, the poor conditions among cotton tenant farmers, and the very poor conditions among migrant farm workers; above all he was committed to social reform through New Deal intervention in people's lives. Stryker demanded photographs that "related people to the land and vice versa" because these photographs reinforced the RA's position that poverty could be controlled by "changing land practices." Though Stryker did not dictate to his photographers how they should compose the shots, he did send them lists of desirable themes, e.g., "church," "court day," "barns." Stryker sought photographs of migratory workers that would tell a story about how they lived day-to-day. He asked Dorothea Lange to emphasize cooking, sleeping, praying and socializing.[5] RA-FSA made 250,000 images of rural poverty. Fewer than half of those images survive and are housed in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. The Library has now placed all 164,000 developed negatives online.[6] From these some 77,000 different finished photographic prints were originally made for the press, plus 644 color images from 1600 negatives.

Documentary films

The Resettlement Administration also funded two documentary films by Pare Lorentz, The Plow That Broke the Plains about the creation of the Dust Bowl and The River about the importance of Mississippi River. The films were deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Reformers ousted; Farmers Home Administration

After the war started and there were millions of unfilled factory jobs in the cities, there was no need for FSA. In late 1942 Roosevelt moved the housing programs to the National Housing Agency, and in 1943, Congress greatly reduced FSA's activities. The photographic unit was subsumed by the Office of War Information for one year then disbanded. Finally in 1946 all the social reformers had left and FSA was replaced by a new agency, the Farmers Home Administration, which had the goal of helping finance farm purchases by tenants--and especially by war veterans--with no personal oversight by experts. It became part of Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty in the 1960s, with a greatly expanded budget to facilitate loans to low-income rural families and cooperatives, injecting $4.2 billion into rural America.[7]


  1. ^ Baldwin 1968
  2. ^ Sternsher 272
  3. ^ Meriam p 290-312
  4. ^ Jane Adams and D. Gorton, "This Land Ain't My Land: The Eviction of Sharecroppers by the Farm Security Administration," Agricultural History Summer 2009, Vol. 83 Issue 3, pp 323-51
  5. ^ Finnegan 43-44
  6. ^ 164,000 RA-FSA photographs, Library of Congress
  7. ^ Baldwin 403



  • Sidney Baldwin, Poverty and Politics: The Rise and Decline of the Farm Security Administration University of North Carolina Press, 1968, a scholarly study by a senior FSA official online edition
  • Greta De Jong, "'With the Aid of God and the F.S.A.': The Louisiana Farmers' Union and the African American Freedom Struggle in the New Deal Era" Journal of Social History, Vol. 34, 2000
  • Michael Johnston Grant, "Down and Out on the Family Farm: Rural Rehabilitation in the Great Plains, 1929-1945" University of Nebraska Press. 2002
  • Lewis Meriam, Relief and Social Security The Brookings Institution. 1946. online edition
  • Bernard Sternsher, Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal Rutgers University Press. 1964 Questia - The Online Library of Books and Journals
  • James T. Young, "Origins of New Deal Agricultural Policy: Interest Groups' Role in Policy Formation." Policy Studies Journal. 21#2 1993. pp 190+. Questia - The Online Library of Books and Journals


  • Maurice Berger, "FSA: The Illiterate Eye," in Berger, How Art Becomes History, HarperCollins, 1992
  • Pete Daniel, et al., Official Images: New Deal Photography Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987
  • James Curtis, Mind's Eye, Mind's Truth: FSA Photography Reconsidered Temple University Press, 1989
  • Cara A. Finnegan, Picturing Poverty: Print Culture and FSA Photographs Smithsonian Books, 2003
  • Andrea Fisher, Let Us Now Praise Famous Women Pandora Press, 1987
  • Carl Fleischhauer and Beverly W. Brannan, eds., Documenting America, 1935-1943 University of California Press, 1988.
  • David A. Gray, "New Uses for Old Photos: Renovating FSA Photographs in World War II Posters," American Studies, 47: 3/4 (Fall/Winter 2006).
  • James Guimond, American Photography and the American Dream (1991), chap. 4: "The Signs of Hard Times"
  • Jack Hurley, Portrait of a Decade: Roy Stryker and the Development of Documentary Photography in the Thirties Louisiana State University Press, 1972
  • Michael Leicht, Wie Katie Tingle sich weigerte, ordentlich zu posieren und Walker Evans darüber nicht grollte, Bielefeld: transcript 2006
  • Dorothea Lange and Paul Schuster Taylor, An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion (1939); second revised edition, Yale University Press, 1969.
  • Nicholas Natanson, The Black Image in the New Deal: The Politics of FSA Photography University of Tennessee Press, 1992
  • Roy Stryker & Nancy Wood, In This Proud Land: America 1935-1943 As Seen In The FSA Photographs, Secker & Warburg/New York Graphic Society, 1973

External links


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