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About the FSA

In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 7027, which consolidated several farm programs into the Resettlement Administration. The Resettlement Administration was the brainchild of Rexford Tugwell, an economics professor at Columbia University, who became an advisor to Franklin D. Roosevelt during his campaign for the presidency in 1932. He was part of Roosevelt’s original Brains Trust. In 1933 he was appointed to the Department of Agriculture and served as Undersecretary. He helped to create the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and was its Director. Tugwell subsequently became the Resettlement Administration’s first head.

One of the primary goals of the Resettlement Administration was to take millions of acres of land that had been exhausted by deforestation, over-farming, and drought and move farm families into planned communities, including model farms and greenbelt towns. The Resettlement Administration sought to establish cooperative farm communities of small landowners reflecting the frontier spirit of sharing. Farmers were to be advised by government experts who would help them implement modern farming methods on better land. The Resettlement Administration also gave loans to farmers to help purchase feed, seed, fertilizer, livestock and equipment, as is shown in the poster A Mule and a Plow by Bernarda Bryson Shahn. In 1933, Bernarda Bryson Shahn traveled to New York to interview the muralist Diego Rivera for an Ohio newspaper. She met Rivera's assistant, Ben Shahn, who became her companion and they eventually married. They both worked for the Resettlement Administration, later the Farm Security Administration. They drove across the United States, documenting rural life for the Resettlement Administration. Her series of lithographs from that trip was published in 1995 as The Vanishing American Frontier.

In 1937, Congress passed the Farm Security Act, which absorbed the Resettlement Administration, into a new organization, the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which operated until 1942. Roosevelt's agricultural policy had been to decrease production and increase prices of farm products. However, this strategy often left tenant farmers without adequate income to pay rent. As a result, the resettlement program eventually failed because many farmers wanted money to purchase their own farms rather than continue to rent. The Agriculture Department did not have such an aid program, so Congress passed the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act. The Farm Security Administration was then able to help nearly 12,000 tenant farmers purchase farms with funds from the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act. The FSA was created to rescue the chronic rural poor, receiving little or no benefits. The chronic rural poor included subsistence farmers on marginal land, migratory farm laborers and tenants and sharecroppers. The FSA had four main tasks: resettlement, rehabilitation, land utilization and technical assistance.

In 1935 the Farm Security Administration started with 12 employees and by end of the year it had 16,386. Approximately 4,200 employees came from nine other agencies. The staff ultimately numbered 19,000 and was in every state. Seventy-five percent were employed outside of Washington D.C. The FSA employed over 4,000 rural rehabilitation and home management supervisors. The staff included lawyers, accountants, administrators, statisticians, doctors, nurses, soil engineers, home economists, teachers, sociologists, political scientists, economists, and specialists in farm management, sanitation, public health and preventive medicine. In 1941, Theodore Schultz reported that the FSA led all other federal agencies in the number of personnel with training or education in the social sciences.

There were twelve regional offices, plus Puerto Rico. There were district offices in each state, with county offices as well. At the county level were the rehabilitation officer and various assistants, including home management specialists who worked with women. In essence the county supervisor was a teacher, banker, farm and home expert, family case worker and community organizer. Technical assistance included demonstrations, instruction and supervision. They provided training in basic business skills and bookkeeping. They taught home economics and child rising classes. They also worked to help farmers to develop other related businesses. The County Offices were very active at the county level and interacted with numerous government and nongovernmental offices and officials, including: Soil Conservation Service, Works Progress Administration, Farm Credit Administration, Agricultural Adjustment Administration, National Youth Administration, Agricultural Extensions, as well as teachers, bankers, ministers, civic and farm organizations leaders, health and hospital officials, relief and welfare workers and local elected officials.

In 1935 Rexford Tugwell appointed his former student Roy Stryker in charge of the Historical Section in the Information Division, with the assignment of photographing the land and people that the FSA was trying to help. The FSA had a darkroom and usually no more than six photographers at a time, who were compensated about $2,300 to $3,200 per year. Stryker’s staff never exceeded 28, with lab technician and clerical staff outnumbering photographers. The low point was 10 staff members in 1937. During 1940 and 1941 Stryker estimated that his budget was between $67,000 and $68,000 with two thirds going for salaries. In 1941 total expenditures for the entire FSA exceeded a billion dollars. The Information Division of the FSA was responsible for providing educational and press information to the public and government agencies. Under Stryker, the Historical Section adopted the goal of "introducing America to Americans." Stryker hired photographers to document the plight of the rural poor and sought photographs that "related people to the land and vice versa" because those photographs supported the idea that poverty could be changed through reform. During 1938 Stryker estimated that his lab would process 7,000 prints each month over the summer for the FSA and other clients. In 1940 more than 1,400 images per month appeared in publications.

The FSA’s First Annual Report in 1935 was one of best illustrated government publications of its time. The First Annual Report was an attractive glossy publication of 173 pages, with 50 photos, and a 53 page statistical section and even included a multi colored pictorial map showing the types of projects it was conducting in the 48 states. This report also included a map of all the Active Projects conducted by the Resettlement Administration at that time.

Last updated by andjsmit on 12/06/2012