Photographer Russell Lee took these photos of Meriden, Conn., in October 1939 for the Farm Security Administration. The FSA was a New Deal program to fight rural poverty. The agency hired 11 photographers to record the plight of poor farmers. Some of the most famous Depression-era photographers (including Lee) got their start at the FSA: Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Gordon Parks. The agency’s focus shifted to patriotic themes during World War II and it became part of the Office of War Information.
Meriden, Conn., was the biggest manufacturer of silver tableware in the world during the 1930s and 1940s. International Silver had been formed in 1898 by independent New England silversmiths and grew through acquisitions. The Meriden-Wallingford area was transformed into a center of silver craftsmanship. Silverware production peaked in the late 1930s, but then lines of business were discontinued or sold. Though silverware is no longer made in the area, Meriden is still known as Silver City.
Meriden was hit hard by the Great Depression. Many people were in danger of losing their homes. President Roosevelt’s Home Owners Loan Corporation helped save 301 Meriden homes for their owners by January 1935.
The city gave make work to people who couldn’t find jobs. They cleared the reservoir and salvaged firewood for the needy, turned the dump into a playing field, expanded the golf course. The Works Progress Administration put people to work building the Chamberlain Highway, improving the airport, clearing streams and painting schools.
By October 1939, the unemployment crisis began to ease. The relief rolls were shrinking. Four months after this photo was taken, local factories began to hire for the war effort.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows is a benevolent fraternal organization that dates back to 17th-century Britain. It came to the United States in 1819, and the Grand Lodge was established in Connecticut in 1846.
You just have to wonder if the fellow raking leaves went to the dance that night.