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She Works Hard for the Money (And So Does He)

"During the Great Depression of the 1930s, when as many as one out of four Americans could not find jobs, the federal government stepped in to become the employer of last resort. The Works Progress Administration (WPA), an ambitious New Deal program, put 8.5 million jobless to work, mostly on projects that required manual labor. With Uncle Sam meeting the payroll, countless bridges, highways and parks were constructed or repaired," said Ann Banks in First Person America (Reprint: New York, W.W. Norton, 1991).

A Dock Stevedore at the Fulton Fish Market Line crew at work in Manzanar

Banks' Introduction: The Great Depression and the New Deal is illustrated with photographs from "American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 - 1940." In this section, you can listen to ironworker Chris Thorsten's response to the question, "Is your job dangerous?" As part of his reply, he notes that "you ain't an iron worker unless you get killed. . . . When I got hurt I was squeezed between a crane, and a collarbone broke and all the ribs in my body and three vertebrae. I was laid up for four years."

A daguerreotype taken between 1850 and 1860 shows three railroad workers standing on a crank handcar. In "America's First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1862," there are more than 700 photographs dating from 1839 to 1864. Portrait daguerreotypes produced by the Mathew Brady studio make up the major portion of the collection. The collection also includes Robert Cornelius' 1839 self-portrait (above), which is the earliest extant American photographic portrait, and the earliest known portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln.

Ansel Adams is most famous for his breathtaking portraits of the American West, but he also documented the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California and the Japanese Americans interned there during World War II. In "'Suffering Under a Great Injustice': Ansel Adams's Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar" you can see telephone line workers in Manzanar in 1943. The presentation features Collection Highlights selected by Library of Congress staff who have worked closely with these photographs.

Hundreds more "work" resources can be accessed at the American Memory Collection Finder Search page. Type in "work" or "working."

A. Gordon Parks, "A Dock Stevedore at the Fulton Fish Market," 1943, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction No.: LC-USW3-28738-D.

B. Ansel Adams, Line crew at work in Manzanar. 1943. Manzanar War Relocation Center photographs, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Call number LC-A351-3-M-23-B; LC-DIG-ppprs-00222 DLC (b&w digital file from original neg.); LC-A351-T01-3-M-23-B DLC (b&w film dup. neg.).

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