Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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FARM SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

As a New Deal program designed to ameliorate the effects of the Great Depression, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was created in 1937 as a subagency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. FSA combined other disparate programs into one organization. It was the direct successor of the Resettlement Administration (RA) and absorbed all of the RA's programs, including the rural rehabilitation, farm loan, and subsistence homestead programs. In August 1946 the Farmers Home Administration replaced the FSA.

The FSA was not a relief agency. Much like the WPA, it worked through county offices that reported to state directors. Clients were screened for need and for the viability of their future. The program was not for "the helpless and hopeless," but for those families that had exhausted the means but not the desire for success. It provided loans to those who could not obtain credit elsewhere.

In addition to loans made to farmers for purchase of land, equipment, or seed and livestock, the FSA also provided a health care plan for participating farm families and promoted educational and training programs. The agency encouraged proper sanitation and worked with other New Deal agencies such as the National Youth Administration and the Work Projects Administration (WPA) to provide privies and wells on private farms as well as improved sanitary facilities and mosquito control for migratory labor camps and for the recreational areas and land utilization projects of the agency.

Generally, the loan program was the heart of the FSA. Loans could be used directly for farming activities but also indirectly for housing improvements or for the agency's sanitary or health programs. The end result was to provide the means for farm families to become self-sustaining. The federal government recognized that one of the major problems in the agricultural economy was the plight of the tenant farmers, who were caught in an endless cycle of poverty. The policies of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) actually exacerbated the tenant farmers' problems, forcing many of them off the land.

The FSA promoted land ownership. Utilizing monies from the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937 and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the FSA began a tenant-purchase loan program. In early 1941 sixteen thousand tenant families nationwide participated, obtaining forty-year loans at 3 percent interest with which to purchase their own land. The average loan was for $5,000. From its inception in 1937 to mid-1941, the FSA loaned more than $473 million nationwide and awarded another $122,375,000 in grants. The programs helped increase the average net worth of FSA client families by 21 percent in their first year of participation.

In December 1937 the Daily Oklahoman reported that Oklahoma had received $417,000 to loan to tenant farmers to buy sixty-nine farms in eleven of Oklahoma's seventy-seven counties. Those counties included Major, Washita, Caddo, Cleveland, Lincoln, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Atoka, Le Flore, McCurtain, and Mayes. Five farmer-tenant loans in Major County were the first to be approved by FSA officials in Washington, D.C. These loans averaged $9,000 each, the highest in Oklahoma's selected eleven counties.

Of all of the Farm Security Administration's programs, one stands out in its lasting effect on Oklahoma. The Information Division was created by Rexford Tugwell as part of the Resettlement Administration. Its purpose was to document rural conditions and to promote the programs of the RA. Under the FSA, additional photographers were recruited to continue the program. Under Roy Stryker's direction, twenty-two photographers captured images of Americans, American culture, and American landscape.

Select photographs taken by these artists have helped shape public perception of Oklahoma. Whereas previous images of the land runs and oil derricks created an impression of a progressive, industrious state populated by hardworking, no nonsense pioneers, the FSA photographs changed that concept. Arthur Rothstein's photograph of a man and his son struggling against the dust-laden wind in Cimarron County reinforced the growing public notion that Oklahoma was the center of the Dust Bowl. Dorothea Lange's haunting image of an Oklahoma migrant worker in California put a face on the effects of the Great Depression while her images of whole families abandoning the state by heading west on U.S. Highway 66 (Historic Route 66) added an air of pathos to the state's reputation.

SEE ALSO: FARMING, GREAT DEPRESSION, NEW DEAL, RESETTLEMENT ADMINISTRATION, WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION, TWENTIETH CENTURY.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Joseph Gaer, Toward Farm Security: The Problem of Rural Poverty and the Work of the Farm Security Administration (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1941). Paul E. Mertz, New Deal Policy and Southern Rural Poverty (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978). Alfred Carl Seago, "A Comparison of Results From Planned and Actual Operation on Farm Security Administration Farms, Pawnee and Payne Counties, Oklahoma" (M.A. thesis, Oklahoma A&M College, 1946).

Jim Gabbert

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