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San Francisco in the Great Depression: Photos by Dorothea Lange

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In 1918, photographer Dorothea Lange left New York on a trip to travel the world. That ambitious trip was cut short by a robbery, and Lange ended up settling in the San Francisco Bay Area and opening a studio there. During the Great Depression, Langue took her camera out of the studio and onto the streets to document the country for the Farm Security Administration.

While Lange is best known for her Migrant Mother photo, captured in Nipomo, California, in 1936, Lange took her camera across the continental US for her documentary work:

A map of the US with dots where Lange photographed during the Great Depression. Courtesy Photogrammar.
A map of the US with dots where Lange photographed during the Great Depression. Courtesy Photogrammar.

Among the cities Lange focused her lens on was San Francisco, where she made over 100 photos for the FSA between 1935 and 1939. Here’s a selection of her best photos showing San Francisco during the Great Depression:

Street meeting. San Francisco, California. August 1936.
Street meeting. San Francisco, California. August 1936.
Howard Street in San Francisco, known as "Skid Row," the district of the unemployed. February 1937.
Howard Street in San Francisco, known as “Skid Row,” the district of the unemployed. February 1937.
Longshoremen's lunch hour. San Francisco waterfront, California. February 1937.
Longshoremen’s lunch hour. San Francisco waterfront, California. February 1937.
Unemployed men sitting on the sunny side of the San Francisco Public Library. California. February 1937.
Unemployed men sitting on the sunny side of the San Francisco Public Library. California. February 1937.
Scene along "Skid Row." Howard Street, San Francisco, California. February 1937.
Scene along “Skid Row.” Howard Street, San Francisco, California. February 1937.
Employment agency on Howard Street. San Francisco, California. February 1937.
Employment agency on Howard Street. San Francisco, California. February 1937.
Howard Street, called "Skid Row," the street of the unemployed in San Francisco, California. February 1937.
Howard Street, called “Skid Row,” the street of the unemployed in San Francisco, California. February 1937.
Striking longshoremen during the waterfront strike in San Francisco, California. March 1937.
Striking longshoremen during the waterfront strike in San Francisco, California. March 1937.
City officials hear the speeches made at mass meeting of Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers protesting cut in relief appropriation. In front of city hall, San Francisco, California. February 1939.
In front of city hall, San Francisco, California. The Worker’s Alliance, Works Progress Administration (WPA) organize simultaneous demonstrations in the large cities of the nation cut in the relief appropriation by the United States Congress February 1939.
Listening to speeches at mass meeting of Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers protesting congressional cut of relief appropriations. San Francisco, California. February 1939.
Listening to speeches at mass meeting of Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers protesting congressional cut of relief appropriations. San Francisco, California. February 1939.
Note on modern architecture and home building. San Francisco, California. April 1939.
Note on modern architecture and home building. San Francisco, California. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. In the neighborhood where the Salvation Army operates. Breakfast for his pal, bummed from a restaurant. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. In the neighborhood where the Salvation Army operates. Breakfast for his pal, bummed from a restaurant. April 1939.
The city of San Francisco, California. Seen from the first street ramp of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. April 1939.
The city of San Francisco, California. Seen from the first street ramp of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. April 1939.
Church in Potrero district where there is a "Russian-White" colony. San Francisco, California. April 1939.
Church in Potrero district where there is a “Russian-White” colony. San Francisco, California. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Returning to headquarters. No recruits to audience from street. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Returning to headquarters. No recruits to audience from street. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Men pause a moment to watch, and then pass on. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Men pause a moment to watch, and then pass on. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Girls' Sunday school class sings between preaching. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Girls’ Sunday school class sings between preaching. April 1939.
April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Street scene as the army began to sing. April 1939.
Solo. Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. April 1939.
Solo. Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Unemployed young men pause a moment to loiter and watch, and then pass on. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Unemployed young men pause a moment to loiter and watch, and then pass on. April 1939.
Architecture in the Potrero district. San Francisco, California. April 1939.
Architecture in the Potrero district. San Francisco, California. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Return of the army seen through the lobby of a low-class hotel. Causes slight attention. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Return of the army seen through the lobby of a low-class hotel. Causes slight attention. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. In the neighborhood where the Salvation Army operates. Sedan service to Los Angeles on share the expense basis. April 1939.
Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. In the neighborhood where the Salvation Army operates. Sedan service to Los Angeles on share the expense basis. April 1939.
The city of San Francisco, California. Seen from the first street ramp of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. April 1939.
The city of San Francisco, California. Seen from the first street ramp of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. April 1939.

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