Color photographs of the Great Depression: Living in a dugout house, New Mexico, 1940

1940 New Mexico dugout house FSA photographIf you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I get all sentimental about outhouses — finding it so hard to comprehend… to imagine… how many folks in America didn’t have indoor plumbing until the 1950s or even into the 1960s. I like to pinch my whiny self to remind how lucky I have it. In that same spirit, this photo just blew me away: It’s from 1940 — a dugout house in Pie Town, New Mexico.

photo from the depression taken by the farm security administration

Here’s the family that lived in the dugout. These Pie Town photos were taken by Russell Lee, in October 1940, as part of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information project to document the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations. Yes, there were color photos taken – but apparently not very many. 

kitchen in a 1940 dugout house in new mexico

Here’s the kitchen in the dugout house of another family in Pie Town.

african american farm 1940 during the depression

Down South: African American’s tenant’s home beside the Mississippi River levee, near Lake Providence, Louisiana, June 1940. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott.

Over on the East Cost, where settlements had been in place longer, I think a lot of housing looked like this. The caption indicates: tenement housing, Brockton, Mass., 1940. This photo by Jack Delano.

1940! Can you believe it? My mother was born in 1938. Her mother was born in 1911. My grandfather was born in 1900. Even with our hi-def big screens and 4G networks and solar panels and botox injections — we are still that connected to those times. I find this mind-boggling.  All of these photos are now part of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

The Denver Post catalogued these photos and more — which were featured in the 2006 exhibit Bound for Glory: America in Color —  on their website:  The catalog is pretty darn amazing… riveting…. p.s. I hope you come back to me.

Oh, one more thing: The dugout house: Now THAT is a bona-fide “sustainable house.” Don’t kid yourself: We cannot consume ourself out of a consumption crisis. Well, my pea brain can’t comprehend how…

via Snowden Flood


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  1. Vera ( Grasz) bottrell says

    I was born in garden co. Neb. 1937. (Bigsprings is on my birthcertific -born in the dougout– the sister that was with mom when i was born still lives) we lived in a home in the ground close to lewelen ne. we had a cestern for house water and i do remember getting water with my Brother– know that i think of it i wondered wheren it came from ( the water) is there any one that can help me Vera

  2. Julia says

    When my family moved to Alaska in 1961, there was a family we befriended that lived in a dugout house. It was very easy to heat with a wood stove. Cinderblocks were reinforcing the outerwalls. After a few years, they were able to save up enough money to build a very nice log cabin. There were others that did the same thing. I think that was smart. They didn’t go into debt and were able to live fine in the mean time.

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