The photos I have placed here throughout this article are usually shared simply as street scenes in Atlanta. Occasionally more details are included as hints to location, but they are scant as they are simply the short notes the photographer made regarding the photo, and in most cases the locations and identities of the people are not given.
I thought it was time to provide more details behind the photographer and why the photos were taken in 1939.
The photographer – Marion Post Wolcott – was born in 1910 in Montclair, New Jersey. A product of divorce and boarding school Wolcott began teaching in in a small town in Massachusetts where she saw first-hand the realities of the Depression. Later, she went to Europe studying with Trude Fleischmann, a Viennese photographer, the only formal training in photography she ever received. While in Vienna she saw some of the Nazi attacks on the Jewish population before she returned to the United States and began the process of establishing herself as a photojournalist.
Establishing herself in a man’s world was not easy. Wolcott became frustrated when the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin kept her away from the hard-hitting new stories assigning her to cover women’s events such as PTA and garden club meetings. A break came in 1938 when Ralph Steiner of the New York Photo League presented some of Wolcott’s work to Roy Stryker, head of the Farm Security Administration.
Stryker hired Wolcott immediately. The Farm Security Administration was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s alphabet government, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency was best known for providing credit, farm management, and technical supervision to rural farmers. The photos would help to sell the farm programs the Roosevelt administration wanted to implement.
Wolcott, then an unmarried woman, worked alone from 1938 to 1941 traveling across the south documenting the political aspects of poverty and deprivation. Atlanta was just one stop among many in various small towns and large cities.
Wolcott and other Farm Security Administration’s photographers such as Jack Delano and Russell Lee would all become well known for their work and would set the standard for documentary photography. Overall, they created 175,000 black and white photographs and 1,600 color photos that covered diverse subjects across the United States. The collection is a snapshot in time to illustrate the vitality of the United States in the aftermath of the Depression.
The photography project ran through 1942 when the Farm Security Administration dissolved. Remnants of the agency fell under the Office of War Information. Many of the photographers remained where they continued taking pictures that would be uplifting and boost morale.
Wolcott met her husband – Leon Oliver Wolcott – in 1941. At that time, he was deputy director of war relations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Wolcott continued taking pictures for the Farm Security Administration but resigned by 1942 finding it difficult to raise a family and keep up with her husband’s travel requirements.
Interests in Wolcott’s photography grew in the 1970s rekindling her own interest in resuming her work. In 1978, she presented her first solo exhibition in California, and by the 1980s the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art began collecting her photographs.
Wolcott’s work is archived at the Library of Congress and the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. The books – Fields of Vision: The Photographs of Marion Post Wolcott: The Library of Congress by Francine Prose and Looking for the Light – The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott by Paul Hendrickson contain some of her photography and more details regarding her life. You can click through to read more about the books and/or make a purchase. You can find all of Marion Post Wolcott’s Atlanta images here at the Library of Congress. Yes, there are several more!
If you enjoyed this post, you might like my latest book – Georgia on My Mind: True Tales from Around the State – which contains 30 true tales from all around the state including three stories from Atlanta, and yes, volume two will be out soon! You can purchase the book here…in print and Kindle versions.