Artelia Bendolph. Photographer: Arthur Rothstein, Gee's Bend, Alabama, February and April 1937

Rothstein, born in New York in 1915, had been Stryker's student at Columbia in the early 1930s. In 1935, as a college senior, he prepared a set of copy photographs for a picture source book on American agriculture that Stryker was assembling. The book was never completed, but before the year was out, Stryker had hired Rothstein at the Resettlement Administration.

In February 1937, Arthur Rothstein was in north-central Alabama photographing Birmingham's steel industry and some nearby resettlement housing projects when he received new instructions from Stryker. "The other day, while getting out a set of pictures for the Administrator to take to Congress," Stryker wrote on February 5, "I realized how lean our file is on good southern tenancy pictures. [We must] find families that are fairly representative of the conditions in the tenancy areas, then take quite a series of pictures on each of these families, showing the house, the people, the children, the farm, the buildings and fences, etc.

On February 18, Stryker wrote Rothstein that the journalist Beverly Smith had told him about a tenant community at Gee's Bend, Alabama, "the most primitive set-up he has ever heard of. Their houses are of mud and stakes which they hew themselves." Smith was preparing an article on tenancy for the July issue of the American Magazine, but Stryker sensed bigger possibilities, telling Rothstein, "We could do a swell story; one that LIFE will grab." Stryker planned to visit Alabama and asked Rothstein to wait for him, but he was never able to make the trip and Rothstein went to Gee's Bend alone.

America from the Great Depression to WWII: Black & white photographs from the FSA - OWI 1935-1945

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