Press/Journalists

"Man working on hull of U.S. Submarine at Electric Boat Co., Groton, Conn."
By Fenno Jacobs, August 1943
National Archives, General Records of the U.S. Navy, 1789-1947

The Way We Worked: Photographs from the National Archives

The Way We Worked, a photo exhibition focusing on the history of work in America, is on display in the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

Note: All of the photographs featured in The Way We Worked are from the holdings of the National Archives. For additional images, or for more information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Media Desk or call (202) 357-5300.


National Archives Unveils New Photo Exhibition
The Way We Worked: Photographs from the National Archives

Washington, DC…On Friday, December 16, The Way We Worked, a photo exhibition focusing on the history of work in America, opened in the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

The Way We Worked offers a lens for viewing the enormous transformation of work and workplaces through photography 1857 - 1987. These photographs drawn from the National Archives collection document work clothing, locales, conditions, and conflict. They also depict a workforce whose distinctiveness was shaped by immigration and ethnicity, slavery and racial segregation, wage labor and technology, gender roles and class-as well as by the American ideals of freedom and equality. Most importantly, these images honor those who built this country-the working men and women of America.

The Way We Worked includes 86 exceptional black and white and color photographs. Also from the National Archives holdings are large photomurals, a video showing a variety of workplaces, and audio segments in which workers talk about their experiences on the job.

The multi-media exhibition explores five themes:

Where We Worked- Americans have worked just about everywhere: on farms, boats, and skyscrapers; in mines, offices, and factories; and at home, restaurants, and hospitals.

How We Worked - Photographs show workers posing heroically with their tools and as the symbolic "heart of the turbine." These pictures also reveal the effect of technology and automation as operatives sit along assembly lines, labor in typing pools, or work amid the sounds of machinery around them.

What We Wore to Work - Work clothes have many functions. They serve as badges of authority and status, make occupations immediately identifiable, and sometimes distinguish male and female roles.

Dangerous and Unhealthy Work - Photography has traditionally documented "the dangerous trades" in the United States. Social reformers have used photographs as evidence to ban child labor, reduce the hours that women could work, expose unsanitary workplaces. Engineers have photographed the details of machinery and processes to improve operations and practices.

Conflict at Work - Workers and managers have clashed over wages, hours of work, working conditions, work rules, and union recognition. Strikes, lockouts, protests, and boycotts as well as bargaining and settlements have played a large part in shaping American history.

The exhibit will be on display through May 29, 2006, and is free and open to the public. The National Archives is located on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street, NW. Fall/Winter hours are 10 A.M. - 5:30 P.M. daily.


Exhibit Press Preview Special Guests Featured in The Way We Worked

In preparation for The Way We Worked exhibition, National Archives Public Affairs staff tracked down the real people behind the photos. Here are two photographers and a mother and son who attended the exhibition press preview on December 13, 2005:

"Jean Schnelle pulls weeds out of a planter while balancing her six-month-old son, Dwight, on her hip"
By Michelle Bogre, Lockwood Missouri, ca. 1978
National Archives, Records of the U.S. Information Agency

Michelle Bogre

Michelle Bogre was an undergraduate photography student at the University of Missouri in 1975 when a professor offered her the chance to participate in federal effort to photograph American farm life for the 1976 Bicentennial. As the granddaughter of farmers, Michelle jumped at this opportunity. She drove through rural Missouri in an old, beat up Ford, attending county fairs using word of mouth to meet people willing to let her spend time with them and capture their lives. Her photos were featured in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 1976 book The Face of Rural America.

Thirty years later, Michelle is now the Chair of photography at Parsons School of Design in New York City. In addition to being a photographer, she is also a writer, photo critic, marketing communications consultant and lawyer specializing in intellectual property issues. Michelle looks back on that time as a "transformative summer" and "the experience that started everything" for her.

Jean Schnelle

Jean Schnelle claims she stepped outside with her 6 month old son Dwight in order to get away from Michelle Bogre, the eager student photographer who wouldn't leave her alone. "She ate with us, slept with us. She photographed everything we did. She even came with me to the beauty shop." Jean participated in all aspects of farming life - sorting cattle, driving tractors, and weeding -- while also raising seven children. The 3,000 acre Schnelle farm has been owned by the family for five generations. Now almost 70 years old and a grandmother of fifteen, Jean still helps out with farm work.

Dwight Schnelle

Dwight Schnelle has been involved in all segments of farm life since even before his photographic debut at 6 months. Asked if it was strange to be contacted by the National Archives 30 years after the photo was taken, Dwight responded: "According to my mom, this is not as bizarre as having a photographer move in with you and stay for over a week." A graduate of the Missouri State in Springfield, Missouri where he studied agriculture, Dwight is now the part owner and operator of the family farm, where he raises 300 head of Black Angus cattle and grows soybeans, corn and wheat. Dwight and his wife Amanda have two sons - Max, who is almost 3, and Henry, who is a month old.

"Weeding sugar beets for $2.00 an hour"
By Bill Gillette, near Fort Collins, Colorado, June 1972
National Archives, Records of the Environmental Protection Agency

Bill Gillette

Bill Gillette grew up on a farm in upstate New York, where his father ran a small grocery store. Bill was in a PhD photography program at Colorado State University when he was invited to participate in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Documerica project. Established in 1971 on the first anniversary of the EPA's creation, Documerica aimed to document the EPA's successes and failures in battling environmental degradation. Documerica was modeled after an earlier federal documentary photography project run by the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

As a starving graduate student, Bill was thrilled at the prospect of both being supplied with film and paid for his work. Hired for 30 days, he was assigned a geographical area and asked to photograph the environment, focusing on the people and ranching of the area. Documerica marked the start of Bill's work photographing migrant labor and interest in farm advocacy. His interest in migrant labor in California's Central Valley led to a nine year study of a Zapotec village in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico "as I was interested in the origins of migrants who follow the migrant trail." Bill has done extensive magazine and corporate work, and his photo collections include a study of the farm crisis, mega farms in California and factory farms in both the Central Valley and in the Midwest, and a new book on ranching in a high mountain Colorado valley, showing the pressures on ranching and on the land from development.


From the Winter 2005 issue of Prologue, Volume 27, No. 4.

The Way We Worked

By Bruce I. Bustard

"Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain
Must bring back our mighty dream again."
--Langston Hughes, "Let America Be America Again," 1938

Imagine working in a coal mine. Or in a steel mill. Or at a telephone switchboard. Work and workplaces have gone through enormous transformations between the mid-19th and the late 20th century. "The Way We Worked," a new photography exhibit that opened on December 16, 2005, at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., offers a lens for viewing these changes through photography held by the National Archives.

National Archives photographs document work clothing, locales, working conditions, and workplace conflict. They also document a workforce whose distinctiveness was shaped by many factors-immigration and ethnicity, slavery and racial segregation, wage labor and technology, gender roles and class-as well by the American ideals of freedom and equality. Most importantly, these images honor those who built this country-the working men and women of America. "The Way We Worked" includes 86 exceptional black-and-white and color photographs from National Archives holdings spanning the years 1857-1987. The exhibition explores five themes:

Where We Worked - Americans have worked just about everywhere: on farms, boats, and skyscrapers; in mines, offices, and factories; and at home, restaurants, and hospitals. Photographs in this section include miners coming out of the Comstock Mine in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1867; Hawaiian cowboys ready to ride the range in Waimea, Hawaii, in 1899, and Pullman Porters working in a railroad lounge car in 1945.

How We Worked - Photographs show workers posing heroically with their tools and as the symbolic "heart of the turbine." They also reveal the effect of technology and automation as operatives sit along a radio assembly line, labor in typing pools, or work in a post office sorting room trying to block out the sounds of machinery around them.

What We Wore to Work - Work clothes have many functions. They serve as badges of authority and status, make occupations immediately identifiable, and sometimes distinguish male and female roles. Images in "The Way We Worked" show police officers, nurses, soldiers, secretaries, and fast-food employees wearing the clothing associated with their jobs.

Dangerous and Unhealthy Work - Photography has often documented "the dangerous trades" in the United States. Social reformers have used photographs as evidence to ban child labor, reduce the hours that women could work, and expose unsanitary workplaces. Engineers have photographed the details of machinery and processes to improve operations and practices. "The Way We Worked" documents unsafe conditions such as pesticide and radiation exposure and depicts dangerous jobs such as bridge painting and fire fighting.

Conflict at Work - Workers and managers have clashed over wages, hours of work, working conditions, work rules, and union recognition. Photographs of strikes and picket lines as well as other methods of settling labor problems depict the ways Americans have tried to give workers a voice.

In addition to displaying photographs, "The Way We Worked" provides an opportunity to hear workers talk about their experiences on the job. As they walk around the gallery, visitors hear excerpts from interviews with workers who describe what it was like to be a glove maker in the 1890s, a packinghouse worker in the 1930s, or a coal miner in the early 20th century. A video showing a variety of workplaces and a selection of work songs completes the environmental experience.

"The Way We Worked" will be on display through May 29, 2006, in the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery and is free and open to the public. The National Archives is located on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at Ninth Street, NW, Washington, D.C.

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