Remarkable Photo Collection of Christian Life During the Great Depression

As a fan of photography, nothing excites me more than happening upon photos that I’ve never seen before, especially those that are candid and were not necessarily meant to be appreciated artistically.  Old photographs are particularly moving to me, as one can assume that the subjects of the images likely never imagined someone decades later would be gazing upon their faces and peering into intimate moments of their lives.

Recently, I happened upon a series of photographs captured during the Great Depression.  These photos were commissioned by the United States Farm Security Administration between 1935 and 1944.  It was the largest photography project ever commissioned by the federal government, and resulted in over 140,000 unique images depicting life in the U.S. during the Great Depression.  Photographers were sent across the country, managing to capture some of the most iconic images of American life, particularly that of farmers and rural populations.

Fortunately, many of these photos have been preserved and published at Yale.edu as part of their Photogrammar platform.  As I spent hours pouring through thousands of photographs, each one more captivating than the next, I found myself particularly drawn to the images of religious life in the Depression Era.  It moved my heart to see the faithful gathering to fellowship, getting baptized, singing songs of praise and just turning to the Lord in worship during what was surely the most difficult time in their lives.  I have gathered a selection of these photos to share with you.  These were some of the most moving to me, but there are many others, and I encourage you to check out the full archives linked below.

All photo captions are the exact descriptions entered by the original photographers.

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Members of the Primitive Baptist Church in Morehead, Kentucky, attending a creek baptizing by submersion. August 1940.

 

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“Victory through Christ” Society holding its Sunday Morning Revival in a garage. Dos Palos, California. Testimony: “He’s such a wonderful savior, Glory to God. I’m so glad I came to home. Praise God. His love is so wonderful. He’s coming soon. I want to praise the Lord for what he is to me. He saved me one time and filled me with the Holy Ghost. Hallalulah! He will fill your heart today with overflowing. Bless His Holy name”. June 1938.

 

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Mission, Omaha, Nebraska. November 1938.

Sunday morning, Kern County, California. Many Texans, Oklahomans, Arkansans are settling in this country. Their cultures and forms of religious expression are being transferred with them.  November 1938.

Sunday morning, Kern County, California. Many Texans, Oklahomans, Arkansans are settling in this country. Their cultures and forms of religious expression are being transferred with them. November 1938.

Members of the Pentecostal church praising the Lord. Chicago, Illinois. April 1941.

Members of the Pentecostal church praising the Lord. Chicago, Illinois. April 1941.

Toledo, Ohio. Evangelical church ceremony at which the preacher delivered a hysterical speech, and then burned a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf. Preacher with burned copy of Mein Kampf in one hand and the Bible in the other. 1942.

Toledo, Ohio. Evangelical church ceremony at which the preacher delivered a hysterical speech, and then burned a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Preacher with burned copy of Mein Kampf in one hand and the Bible in the other. 1942.

Washington, D.C. Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, reading the Bible to her household.  August 1942.

Washington, D.C. Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, reading the Bible to her household. August 1942.

 

Washington, D.C. Member of the congregation during the sermon at the First Wesleyan Methodist Church. March 1943.

Washington, D.C. Member of the congregation during the sermon at the First Wesleyan Methodist Church. March 1943.

Bridgeton, New Jersey. FSA (Farm Security Administration) agricultural workers' camp. Negro revivalist. 1942.

Bridgeton, New Jersey. FSA (Farm Security Administration) agricultural workers’ camp. Negro revivalist. 1942.

The vestibule of a Baptist church in Gadsden, Alabama. The hats belong to steel and cotton mill workers. December 1940.

The vestibule of a Baptist church in Gadsden, Alabama. The hats belong to steel and cotton mill workers. December 1940.

Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. April 1939.

Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. April 1939.

 

To see the full collection including remarkable candid shots of people in their homes, at their jobs, and in their churches during the Great Depression, visit http://photogrammar.yale.edu/

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