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Photos: What Life Was Like in DC During the Great Depression

Photos: What Life Was Like in DC During the Great Depression
With the Capitol clearly in view, these houses exist under the most unsanitary conditions; outside privies, no inside water supply and overcrowded conditions (July 1935). Photograph by Carl Mydans.

Yale University researchers published more photos taken during the Great Depression in America. The photos are all taken between 1935 and 1945, and show what life was like in Washington during America’s most difficult economic times. With nearly 6,000 images in the Yale University catalogue of DC, we chose a handful of photos that depict the realities of life in the Washington area during the Great Depression, along with the original captions published by the Farm Security Administration.

July, 1935

The Capitol can be seen in the background of this backyard slum scene. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Backyard typical to a group of houses very close to the House office building, showing only available water supply. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Slum kitchen. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Alley near the House office building. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Front of a typical house offering furnished rooms for rent. Photograph by Carl Mydans.

September, 1935

Hovel home of two families. Near ice chest is the privy, although unseen in this picture. A recent relief visit accounts for the food on the table. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Typical privy in slum section of DC. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Poor children playing on sidewalk in Georgetown. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Small girls sitting in doorway of house in Georgetown. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Hallway in a poor white home, Georgetown. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Healthy children in clean backyard. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Boys playing cards near Union Station. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
White children playing in Georgetown, using the only available playground, the city sidewalk. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Washington’s healthy children at play on the front lawn of one of Washington’s better housing sections. Photograph by Carl Mydans.

November, 1935

The slums. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Alley near L Street, N.W. Blake School in background. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Children playing. Photograph by Carl Mydans.
Washington’s more healthy children. Living at an apartment owned by Washington Sanitary Housing Corporation. Photograph by Carl Mydans.

1936

Street car motorman. Photograph by Carl Mydans.

July, 1936

Center Market in Washington, DC. Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
Photograph by Dorothea Lange.

September, 1936

Weaving. Special Skills Division. Photograph by Arthur Rothstein.
Sculpturing. Special Skills Division. Photograph by Arthur Rothstein.
Modeling. Special Skills Division. Photograph by Arthur Rothstein.

April, 1937

Slums behind Metropolitan Police Department. Photograph by John Vachon.
Man with homemade pipe. Photograph by John Vachon.
Children outside of a movie theatre. John Vachon.

April, 1937

Outside of Good Hope Pharmacy. Photograph by John Vachon.
Brick house in Northeast DC. Photograph by John Vachon.

November, 1937

Photograph by John Vachon.
Spectators at fire. Photograph by John Vachon.

December, 1937

Spectator watching a fire. Photograph by John Vachon.
Man on the street. Photograph by John Vachon.
People outside the house where Lincoln died. Photograph by John Vachon.

August, 1938

Unemployed youth. Photograph by John Vachon.

1939

DC Government worker’s room. Photograph by David Myers.
The room of a government clerk(?), showing three young men reading and listening to a radio in the evening. Photograph by David Myers.
A street scene showing people waiting in line for tickets outside Loew’s Capitol motion picture theatre. Photograph by David Myers.

To see more photos from the Great Depression in DC, Virginia, and Maryland, visit Yale University’s interactive map.

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