May 23, 2022

Washington University in St. Louis Library Unveils 100-plus Hours of Digitized Conversation About the Great Depression

From WUSTL Library Blog:

In March of 1992, many years after photographer Dorothea Lange’s 1936 image of a migrant mother in California became one of the most iconic images from the Great Depression, a camera crew sat down with two daughters of the subject of Lange’s photo.

“We’re talking to Norma Rydlewski and Katherine McIntosh about their mother and their experiences,” the interviewer explained. “I guess what I’d like to get first of all is [a] sense of what kind of woman your mother was. What does it take to live through that?”


Among the scores of interviewees whose reflections on the Great Depression comprise a newly accessible WU Libraries resource are two daughters of Florence Owens Thompson, the subject of Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph.

For about 40 minutes, Rydlewski and McIntosh shared their stories with Blackside, Inc., a film company founded by 1961 Washington University graduate Henry Hampton. In the footage and transcript of that conversation, now accessible for the first time along with many more such interviews through WU Libraries, the family’s daily challenges come to life. The sisters describe not only their strong, beautiful mother but everything from field work and playing with dirt clods as children to early union meetings and the economical “saving grace” that was World War II.


Hampton’s film crews conducted hundreds of hours of interviews for their documentary series, but in most cases only a small portion of those interviews made it to the final program, leaving the complete interviews virtually unseen and inaccessible,” says Nadia Ghasedi, head of the library’s Visual Media Resource Lab, where the Henry Hampton Collection resides. “This new resource of both the complete interview transcripts and video from The Great Depression enables anyone to search and view invaluable primary source material related to a pivotal time in 20th-century American history. It also allows researchers to see which portions of the interviews appeared in the final program, giving insights into the documentary storytelling process.”


The Great Depression Interviews project illustrates the rich collections that WU Libraries staff members are bringing within easy reach of students, faculty, and the wider world. It’s also one example of the collaborative, complex nature of the work required to do so. From early steps like identifying the types of media on which each interview exists and cataloging the camera rolls, sound rolls, and video items, to transcribing and encoding the content in text files according to best practices, to the digitization of more than 300 videocassettes and final design of the online, user-friendly interface, efforts to make such collections as freely accessible and usable as possible are far from simple. Archive staff work closely with the Digital Library Services (DLS) unit to bring such projects to fruition.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.