Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Kind, Joshua B.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

School of Art


Mary; Blessed Virgin; Saint--Art; Shahn; Ben; 1898-1969--Criticism and interpretation; Lange; Dorothea--Criticism and interpretation; Lee; Russell; 1903---Criticism and interpretation; Riis; Jacob A. (Jacob August); 1849-1914--Criticism and interpretation; Hine; Lewis Wickes; 1874-1940--Criticism and interpretation; United States. Resettlement Administration--History; United States. Farm Security Administration--History; Documentary photography--United States--History--20th century; Photography--United States--History--20th century


During the tumultuous 1930?s Depression Era, President Franklin D. Roosevelt inaugurated the Rural Resettlement Administration (RA)/Federal Security Administration (FSA), instituting financial relief programs for destitute farmers and migrant families. In the summer of 1935, the President established a unit entitled the Historical Section, designed to publicize the United States Government social reform programs through the use of the medium of photography. Roy E. Stryker, Director of the Historical Section, hired the experienced artists Ben Shahn, Dorothea Lange, and Russell Lee as government employees within this department. As government employees, the RA/FSA photographers? duties were comprised of the documentation of destitute migrant families in need of RA/FSA financial assistance for application as promotional distribution to the media. The objective of this thesis is to demonstrate that Ben Shahn, Dorothea Lange, and Russell Lee, depicted RA/FSA recipients disguised as the Madonna and Child to legitimize and promote President Franklin D. Roosevelt?s ?New Deal? RA/FSA programs. A combination of formal and iconographical analysis of RA/FSA photographs manipulated by Ben Shahn, Dorothea Lange, and Russell Lee reveal the recurring motif of the Madonna and Child. A social art historical analysis of the patronage of the RA/FSA photographers, under the direction of Roy E. Stryker and the United States Government, divulges the desire for sympathetic, universal, and heroic images of y RA/FSA recipients. Illustrated in this paper is Roy E. Stryker?s influence on the RA/FSA photographers? Ben Shahn, Dorothea Lange, and Russell Lee. Presented is Stryker?s admiration for the photography of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, his request for sympathetic portrayals of RA/FSA recipients, and insistence on documentation of the religious milieu of the time period. An analysis of RA/FSA photographs created by Ben Shahn, Dorothea Lange, and Russell Lee suggests that the RA/FSA photographers were encouraged by Roy E. Stryker to depict RA/FSA recipients disguised as the Madonna and Child.


Includes bibliographical references.


x, 111 pages




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