This post is supporting my week long look at just some of Russell Freedman’s collection of work.

Title: Children of the Great Depression
Author: Russell Freedman
ISBN: 9780618446308
Pages: 118 pages
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, c2005.

In Philadelphia, children at a nursery school made up an eviction game. They would pile all their toy furniture in one corner of the room, then pick it up and move it to another corner. “We ain’t got no money for rent,” one child told their teacher, “so’s we’ve moved into a new house. Then we got the constable[sheriff] on us, so we’s moving again.”
Older kids knew that eviction was no game, and they shared their parents’ distress. A girl from Brooklyn, whose family couldn’t pay the rent and was about to be evicted, confided to Eleanor Roosevelt: “My father tries to be gay about it saying as lightly as possible ‘Who cares. Who wants to live here anyway?’ But under all his jokes I can see he is suffering terrible my pop is very sensative.” (19-20)

Russell Freedman says at the beginning of his bibliography that “Suprisingly, few scholarly works have examined the impact of the Great Depression on children and teens who grew up during those perilous years.” (109) He strives to fill that gap, discussing how children found work to help support the family, entertained themselves with movies and radio shows, and migrated with the family or with other homeless children.

Something unique about the pictures chosen and that I appreciate is that they are not all by Dorothea Lange and they show some diversity in their subjects. While I admit that she took many influential pictures during this time frame, the one of the migrant mother being one of her most famous, some controversy about her methods has come to light over the years. Many authors during this time period exclusively feature her work, which might lead some people to think she was the only photographer. Instead, photographs taken by Jack Delano, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein and Ben Shahn pepper the book, ranging from tiny inserts in the margins to engulfing the whole page and then some. As I mentioned they also have different subjects, ranging from families to kid groups at school and on the road, and also contain a mixture of girls and boys, minorities and whites. Among the most striking are the picture of the girl in the cotton mill (page 45) and the kids being transported to school (page 33) where the girl in the middle just catches and holds the reader’s eye. The picture of the store front (page 10) accompanied by a list of prices for items and annual earnings during the depression really puts things in perspective. For example, a gallon of gasoline back then was $0.18, and it’s now well over that today.

Providing lots of background and filled with first-hand accounts drawn from the books cited in the bibliography, this book could be paired with The Storm in the Barn, which also gives a glimpse of how children felt during the Dust Bowl.

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