Times of Sorrow & Hope

Allen Cohen and Ronald L. Filippelli
September 01, 2003
family sits around dinner table
Marjory Collins

Saying grace before carving the turkey in the home of Earle Landis, Neffsville, November 1942.

During the Great Depression and World War II, a government-sponsored photographic project created an unparalleled pictorial record of American life. As employees of the Resettlement Administration and later the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the Office of War Information (OWI), a group of American photographers—some famous, others to become famous, and some who remain largely unknown—fanned out across the country to document the effects of the Depression and the war on the American people.

4 boys of differing ages sit in front of window
Arnold Rothstein

Boys in the town in front of a Greek coffee shop.Ambridge, July 1938.

When the project began in 1935, its goal was to compile a visual record of the repercussions of the Great Depression on America's rural population, spurring the public to support government relief and resettlement efforts. But as the Depression lengthened, the photographers reached into the cities, into mining and mill towns, into white working-class, African American, and Latino neighborhoods, recording the misery, the resilience, and the spirit of the American people.

american flag hangs outside man’s house
John Vachon

Flag Day. Pittsburgh, June 1941.

Pennsylvania—and the rest of the United States—was at a crossroads between 1929 and 1945. These years marked a transition from the Industrial Revolution of the previous century to the technological and social revolutions of the postwar years.

two women in work clothes pose
Marjory Collins

Twins Amy and Mary Rose Lindich, twenty-one, are employed at the Pennsylvania Railroad as car repairmen helpers, earning seventy-two cents per hour. They reside in Jeanette and carpool with fellow workers. Pitcairn, May 1943.

Although important political and economic changes loomed, they would be dwarfed by the cultural and social transformation of the nation by the automobile, the interstate highway system, the extension of electric power to all parts of the country, the popularization of air travel, and the television.

girls in long dresses and buns grabs their books and coats
John Collier

Mennonite girls waiting for "Deutsch School" to begin in Mennonite church. Hinkletown vicinity, March 1942.

The moving and lucid images created by the Farm Security Administration photographers brilliantly caught Pennsylvania at this crossroads. They allow us to look back to a time long gone but still inextricably linked to our lives, encouraging us to ponder our profound connection to these landscapes, these places, and these people.

man smoking pipe and carrying a wooden box
Walker Evans

A carpenter, Westmoreland Subsistence Homestead Project. July 1935.

We hope that by viewing these images, readers will gain a better understanding of how an earlier generation of Pennsylvanians lived, worked, played, worshipped, struggled, and endured.

man in hat with jacket over shoulder
Arthur Rothstein

Steelworker.Midland, July 1938.

The photographs, text, and captions on these pages are from Times of Sorrow & Hope: Documenting Everyday Life in Pennsylvania During the Depression and World War II: A Photographic Record, by Allen Cohen and Ronald L. Filippelli, published by the Pennsylvania State University Press in June 2003. Allen Cohen is a retired librarian from the University of California, Santa Barbara, a bibliographer, and a film historian. Ronald L. Filippelli, Ph.D., is professor of labor studies and industrial relations and associate dean in the College of the Liberal Arts, 110 Sparks Bldg., University Park, PA 16802; 814-865-7691; rlf@psu.edu. For more information on the book and on the photographs of the FSA-OWI collection, see the companion Web site at http://www.libraries.psu.edu/psul/digital/sorrowhope.html.

Last Updated September 01, 2003