The Real Story Behind the ‘Migrant Mother’ Great Depression-Era Photo

It’s one of the most iconic photos in American history. A woman in ragged clothes holds a baby as two other children come closer, hiding their faces behind her shoulders. The mother narrowed her eyes in the distance, a hand raised towards her mouth and an anxiety engraved deep in the lines of her face.

As soon as it appeared in the pages of a San Francisco newspaper in March 1936, the image known as the “Migrant Mother” came to symbolize the hunger, poverty and despair endured by so many Americans during the Great Depression . Photographer Dorothea Lange had taken the photo, along with a series of others, a few days earlier at a migrant farm worker camp in Nipomo, California.

Lange worked for the Federal Resettlement Administration – later the Farm Security Administration (FSA) – Creation of a New Deal era agency to help struggling farm workers. She and other FSA photographers are said to be taking nearly 80,000 photographs for the organization between 1935 and 1944, helping many Americans wake up the plight of thousands of displaced people in the drought-ravaged region known as Dust Bowl.

How the photo was taken

WATCH: The photo of the “migrant mother”

“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if attracted by a magnet”, Lange Told Popular photography magazine in 1960. She spotted a sign indicating the migrant workers’ camp traveling north on Highway 101 through San Luis Obispo County, about 175 miles north of Los Angeles. Bad weather had destroyed the local pea harvest and the pickers were out of work, many of them on the verge of starvation.

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