1936

Migrant Mother

Florence Owens Thompson with daughters Ruby and Norma.

Image: Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress

Dorothea Lange’s 1936 photograph of a worried migrant mother is the single most iconic image of the Great Depression, and one of the most famous pictures of all time, yet for decades after it was taken, almost nothing was known about its subject.

In 1903, Florence Leona Christie was born in Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma, the daughter of Cherokees displaced from their native tribal land.

She married her first husband at 17, and started a family while working in the farms and mills of northern California. She gave birth to her sixth child in 1931, six months after her husband died of tuberculosis.

She had another child by a California businessman, and ultimately three more with Jim Hill, a bartender and butcher from Los Angeles. She worked a litany of jobs, day and night, to keep them fed.

I worked in hospitals. I tended bar. I cooked. I worked in the fields. I done a little bit of everything to make a living for my kids.
Florence Owens Thompson

In March of 1936, she, Hill and the children were driving on Highway 101, hoping to find lettuce-picking work near Watsonville, when their car broke down near Nipomo.

They pulled into a camp of nearly 3,500 pea pickers, who had come seeking work but were left stranded when the crops were ruined by freezing rain.

While Hill and her sons went into town to get parts for the car, Florence and her daughters waited in a crude lean-to. There, they were approached by a woman hefting a Graflex 4 x 5 camera.

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions.
Dorothea Lange

rest of article over at Retronout

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