Slums of DC

11 Carl Mydan’s Photographs of The 1930s DC Slums
1935. “Slums. Washington, D.C.” Photograph by Carl Mydans.

Washington DC was a very different place in the 1930s. Charactarized by absent public transport, housing shortages and economic opportunists, slums arose across the city. DC was planned with spacious lots, and wealthy property owners, recognizing the shortage of housing and the influx of migrant workers, started building small ramshackle dwellings in the alleys behind their homes. Carl Mydans, a Massachusetts born photographer, came to DC in 1935 after accepting an offer to work for the Resettlement Administration. One of the RA’s mandates was to relocate struggling urban families. The RA was folded into the Farm Security Administration after only a year. When Mydans arrived in DC he found a depressed working class community living in unsanitary and dangerous conditions. The DC alley slums made the politicians on Capital Hill deeply uncomfortable. It conflicted with their image of the city as a gleaming white representation of American virtue and exceptionalism. The Alley Dwelling Authority was created in 1934. They argued that affordable housing was now available, and the Authority was given control to condemn the slums. The reality proved to be different. Housing prices in DC rose dramatically with the boom following the second world war. Monuments and office buildings sprang up around the city, but the working class people displaced from the DC alley slums continued to struggle. Historic & vintage photographs on Photistoric.

1935. “Slum backyard water supply, Washington, D.C. Backyard typical to a group of houses very close to the House office building, showing only available water supply.” Photograph by Carl Mydans.


1935. “Untitled.” Photograph by Carl Mydans.


1935. “The Capitol can be seen in the background of this backyard slum scene, Washington, D.C.” Photograph by Carl Mydans.


1935. “Slum section near the Capitol, Washington, D.C.” Photograph by Carl Mydans.


1935. “Typical back alley in one of the many Washington slums, Washington, D.C. This house is located close to the Capitol.” Photograph by Carl Mydans.


1935. “Poor white hallway, Georgetown, D.C. Seldom do these people have even the desire to clear up rubbish, and the broom shown here seems to be out of place.” Photograph by Carl Mydans.

1935. “Alley dwelling near Union Station, showing crowded, tiny backyards, Washington, D.C.” Photograph by Carl Mydans.


1935. “Untitled.” Photograph by Carl Mydans.


1935. “Small girls sitting in doorway of house in Georgetown, Washington, D.C..” Photograph by Carl Mydans.