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Let's Eat: 1939

Let's Eat: 1939

July 1939. "Congregation gathers after services to talk. Wheeley's [Wheeler's?] Church, Person County, North Carolina." View full size. Medium-format nitrate negative by Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration.


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Getting tangled.

As a lady-person, I can attest that sometimes a skirt seems shorter than it actually is--especially if the skirt is slightly pulled up by her efforts to hold the baby. Likely the girls skirt is somewhat longer (you'll notice the uneven-ness) and probably just stuck under baby and blanket.

Anyway==Great photo!

Short skirts

Something I've noticed looking at historical fashion sites that often seems to be overlooked---throughout much of history--and even to some degree, perhaps regionally, up to my own childhood in the 1970s, it actually was quite normal for girls under 12 or so to wear skirts quite a bit shorter than was usually acceptable for adult women and teens. You'll see Victorian pictures where the little girls have their dresses showing their calves, while their older sisters never would, and certainly no one ever thought twice about a 7-year old in the shortest of short-shorts and a skimpy tube top when I was one. I've two theories why this could be so, and perhaps it's some of both. One is that, while pedophilia has been a problem since time began, it wasn't really thought about in everyday life much, so no one thought much more of showing a little girl's legs than of showing a baby in only a diaper. The other is simple economics( probably especially applicable in the 30s!) It's expensive and hard work keeping skirt-length growing apace with children of that age, and moreover they might not have outgrown the puddle-splashing urge and would likely ruin long skirts much more quickly.

Where are the women and the boys?

This could be rural Oklahoma in the late 50's, where the women and girls would be laying out a communal (potluck) Sunday dinner on picnic tables under the trees behind or to the side of the church (and possibly next to the cemetery), and the boys would be spread out across the property letting out their pent up energy after sitting through a (minimum) two-hour service. The young girls in the doorway are "tending" the men, they are there to relay messages from the men to the women and return with answers or the requested individual or item. They also function as *sentinels* for the women, in case a fight breaks out between some boys or a loud argument amongst the men.

Thank you for posting this. I had forgotten how much I love Dorothea Lange!


I'm surprised at the length of that skirt on the girl in the doorway. It's significantly above her knees - something that just wasn't done in church, let alone on a girl that age.

[And yet evidently it was. - Dave]

Older than the USA

Amazing, the history one uncovers because of Shorpy.

Searching the internet finds that Wheeler's Church is in the Bushy Fork township of Person County and has one of the two cemeteries in the township. More interestingly (to me) was this article that claims the "Wheeler's Primitive Church" was founded in 1760, before the Revolutionary War.

I wonder if any of the people in Ms. Lange's photo are related to Mr. Phelps.

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