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Life of the People

Labor advocate and garment manufacturer Ben Goldstein (1909-1995), with the support of his wife, Beatrice, gave the Library of Congress -- and the nation -- a collection of American prints and drawings informed by an understanding of working people. A native New Yorker, Goldstein collected works over several decades that stirred his very personal interest in the city of his birth, the American people and the human condition during the first half of the 20th century. His concerns encompassed a broad spectrum of social and political issues that touched on life in urban centers and rural areas, American labor and industry, and the experience and achievements of minority groups. Works by some of America's best-known artists, such as Thomas Hart Benton, Diego Rivera, Elizabeth Olds and George Bellows, are represented in this collection.

Fred Ellis, artist. Joseph Hirsch, artist.

The images are available in "Life of the People: Realist Prints and Drawings from the Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Collection, 1912-1948."

American workers and the hardships they have endured are well documented in the Library's online collections. In "America from the Great Depression to World War II," images from the Office of War Information and Farm Security Administration are among the most famous documentary photographs ever produced. Created by a group of photographers working for the U.S. government, the images show Americans in every part of the nation. In the early years, the project emphasized rural life and the negative impact of the Great Depression, farm mechanization and the Dust Bowl. In later years, the photographers turned their attention to the mobilization effort for World War II.

The most famous of these photographs is by Dorothea Lange, from 1936. Its formal title is "Destitute Pea Pickers in California. Mother of Seven Children. Age Thirty-two. Nipomo, California," but it is more familiarly known as "Migrant Mother."

Other "work" collections include "By the People, for the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943," which consists of 908 boldly colored and graphically diverse original posters produced from 1936 to 1943 as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal.

In "American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940," you can listen to interviews with workers, such as anguished packing house worker Jim Cole, who was refused membership in the union:

"I'm working in the Beef Kill section. Butcher on the chain. Been in the place 20 years, I believe. You got to have a certain amount of skill to do the job I'm doing. Long ago, I wanted to join the AFL union, the Amalgamated Butchers and Meat Cutters, they called it, and wouldn't take me. Wouldn't let me in the Union. Never said it to my face, but reason of it was plain. Negro. That's it. Just didn't want a Negro man to have what he should. That's wrong. You know that's wrong."

A. Fred Ellis, artist. "54 Hour Week/Low Wages," ca. 1930s. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZC4-6598. Copyright Robert Ellis.

B. Joseph Hirsch, artist. "Lunch Hour," 1942. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZC4-6718. Call No: PF-XX-H669, no. 1 (A size). Copyright Mrs. Genevieve Hirsch.

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