In grade school, most students in the U.S. education system learn about the Postal Service in one way or another. We may not learn the entire history of its founding or any of the laws and acts that have shaped it over the years1, but we do learn of its importance in American society. My own understanding of the societal importance of the Postal Service has (not surprisingly) grown exponentially as I have completed this project. Through examining the FSA photos that were brought up by my keyword searches, I found my own windows into the past. These windows subsequently showed me the values and community bonds of the FSA project’s era. I certainly found the themes outlined in the previous page, but I also found that the Post Office has been and continues to be a significant community fixture.
As stated previously, the FSA photographers, Marion Post Wolcott, Dorothea Lange, John Delano, and Russell Lee to name a few, were given one overarching instruction: to “introduce America to Americans” through photographs. But this instruction was not as simple as it seems at first. Really photographing America meant showcasing cities, towns, daily life, daily sufferings, work, relaxation, and basically any and every other aspect of residents’ lives they could find. It is this deeper meaning of the main goal of the Information Division that makes the inclusion of post offices and other postal elements in the photographers work so important. They were told to show what was important to U.S. residents and they came back with pictures of post offices, mail, and the like. Their pictures were originally meant to show the sufferings of the Depression and, later, the national rebound of the defense boom. While the photographs did show these trends, they also showcased the importance the postal service had on everyday life in the 1930s and 1940s.
In a time where post offices are only visited on occasion or necessity by many in the U.S. these pictures showed a time where the postal service and post offices played a more involved role in society. Yes, they can still be located at the centers of towns and be bearers of federal information, but many current U.S. citizens barely use the physical post office building at all. The time of the FSA Project was one to remember in postal history and hopefully through more exploration of the pictures, more people will understand the importance of the Postal Service both at the time of the Farm Security Administration and today.
- 1) Books by Richard John and David M. Henkin are prime sources of the laws and acts that instituted and shaped the postal service if further information on the subject is of interest.