Change is in the Air

Wherever I look recently, I see changes. I went looking in the Digital Public Library of America and every photo I happened to pull up was related to some kind of change.

A big part of it was migration.

Sometimes people would go running toward a change–like the homesteaders or the California Gold Rush. But in the majority of cases, the change wasn’t really voluntary. It was brought about by need and circumstances. You can see the fatigue (and at times the fright) in the older people’s faces, but the children’s faces are often bright and curious.

1892­-1900. A photo from a family’s application to reenter the U.S. From the National Archives and Records Administration.


1900 – A photograph of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island Courtesy of NY State Archives via Empire State Digital Network

1900 – A photo of a family at their cabin on their homestead University of Minnesota Libraries via Minnesota Digital Library



Twins Elsie (1889-1981) and Lela (1889-1962) Scott were two of seventeen children of Exodusters John and Julia Scott. The Scotts migrated from Louisiana to Indiana and then to Stafford County, Kansas. This photograph was taken at the W. R. Gray Studio in St. John, Kansas in 1910.

1922 – A family arriving in Chicago after migrating from the rural South. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

I’m guessing this family was forced to migrate north to find work. But if you notice, people in the 1920s and 1930s always managed to dress well and look good, whether they had money or not.


Not every change was about physically moving, of course. Sometimes the changes were related to how they lived and worked, or learning new things.

A Crow Nation family eating together in their kitchen in 1910


I love this picture. Partly for the wallpaper but mostly because of the dad at the head of the table. Notice the rifle on the mantle behind him!

1910s – A photo of home economics class at the Pipestone Indian Training School in Minnesota with several girls in aprons working on kitchen tasks


1900 – young children working in a bottle factory in Chicago’s Little Italy – Illinois Digital Heritage Hub. Child labor laws would soon cause this practice to stop.


A 1922 photo by Carter G. Woodson captioned “A result of the migration. A Negro teacher with pupils of both races.” Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

It’s too bad this one is so grainy. Most classrooms were not integrated in the early 1920s. Looks like this one was an all boys class.

1913-1917 Students in the Mandolin Club at the Pipestone Indian Training School pose for a photo with their instruments