Quilts in Temporary Homes

In the final month before I set aside my book manuscript to start teaching, I’ve been immersed in the Farm Security Administration’s Migratory Labor Camps, federally funded temporary communities designed a radical experiment in democracy during the New Deal. Among the standard amenities were Home Economics Buildings with sewing machines, quilting frames, and expert home economists on staff. The opportunity to make quilts and mattresses was key to comfortable living in these shelters. As powerful symbolic objects, quilts allow even tents and make-do shelters feel like home.

Here are some of my favorite photos, all by Russell Lee, a photographer with the Farm Security Administration, of migrants working on and living with quilts.

Black and white photo of woman stitching a quilt in frame.
Woodville, California. FSA (Farm Security Administration) farm workers’ community. Agricultural worker quilting in the sewing room
Black and white photo of toddler sitting on bed
Interior of tent of white migrant family near Edinburg, Texas. Bed is on the floor. Tent was made of patched cotton materials of various sorts. The man said he had worked in a cotton mill in Dallas, Texas, and had obtained the materials then
Black and white photo of woman sitting on floor hand sewing
White migrant mother piecing a quilt. Harlingen, Texas.
Black and white photo of two women in chairs doing hand work.
Woodville, California. FSA (Farm Security Administration) farm workers’ community. Carding surplus cotton which will be used for quilts.
Black and white photo of child in bed covered with quilt
Little boy sick in bed. His father has been employed in construction work at the naval air base but was hurt and is now working in a parking lot. Corpus Christi, Texas

To learn more about the Migratory Labor Camps, I recommend Veronica Martínez-Matsuda’s excellent, award-winning Migrant Citizenship: Race, Rights, and Reform in the U.S. Farm Labor Camp Program.