Hatless in a Hat Shop, 1942

The photos taken by the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information during the Great Depression and Second World War offer many insights into how ordinary Americans survived hard times. One small slice of history was recorded by photographer and later anthropologist John Collier. He went to Richmond, West Virginia to document a government program that sent unemployed young people from the area to help with the harvest in upstate New York. His photos provide a visual account of the applicants, their train trip North, and small glimpses from their life on the job.

Collier also took the time to ask local people what they thought of the program. This photo of Mrs. Burt Marshall was particularly informative.  She felt that girls should not have been sent away, but that it was good for the boys “because it trains them to be good citizens and participate in the war effort.”

Don’t you wish that Collier had recorded information about her life as well?  Was she a milliner? A shop owner? A customer?  Surrounded by hats, why wasn’t she wearing one herself? And where did she find that boldly printed shirtwaist dress?

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