The Migrant Mother


Migrant Mother, taken by Dorothea Lange in March,1936.  


 This photograph is widely considered the most iconic image of the Great Depression, as it depict the struggle of so many to make ends meet.  After driving with her family Thompson’s car broke down just outside a pea-picker’s camp in California.  In the pea-pickers camp there were roughly 2,500-3,500 people camping there.  Unfortunately for the campers who were expecting to be able to pick peas in the field, a freezing rain had destroyed the crop leaving thousands without work.  As Thompson waited for her husband to fix her car she set up a temporary camp for her and her children.  That same day Dorothea Lange discovered Thompson and her family and took a total of 6 images over the course of 10 minutes.  Lange promised Thompson that she would never publish the photos however she later sent them in to both the San Francisco News and the Resettlement Administration in D.C.. Thompson is said to have been upset over the fact that she “never got a penny out of it” and that Lange never even sent her a copy like she promised she would. I chose this photograph because it is one of my favorites.  Being an amateur photographer and having worked with film I understand how difficult it is to get such strong contrasts between dark and light tones. In this photograph the contrast, focus, and lighting is perfect (not an easy thing to do in 1936).  I also like this photograph for the historical time period it represents.  This image represents all of the mothers and families who were also trying to feed their children during the great depression.  The reason I feel this image is so important is because it reminds us not to take anything for granted and that we must learn from our past.  This image takes many people back to a time when international trade plunged by more than fifty percent and the unemployment rate was up twenty-five percent in the United States.  If we are not reminded of times like these every once in a while we could be doomed to repeat them.  It is photographs like these that keep us humble.  It is photographs like these that help us to reflect.


6 thoughts on “The Migrant Mother”

  1. This image sends a really strong message. In regards to reflection, I think this image is suggestive of the lavish lifestyle lived in America during the 1920s. The rich merely got richer during the 20s, they payed no mind to the world around them and focused purely on their own satisfaction. Although “The Great Gatsby” is a work of fiction, it speaks to this image in my opinion. I believe that Tom and Daisy Buchanan are representative of the lavish upper class, while they seek to advance their social status. The Great Depression shows society how the “other half” lives, so to speak. During times of extreme hard ship and trouble the media attempted to share the pain and suffering of the lower class with the country in order to spread awareness. My question to you is: Do you think the intention of this photo is meant to represent the suffering of that individual family, or the country as a whole? Obviously, The Great Depression affected everyone, my opinion is that this image is supposed to represent the American people as a whole.

  2. While this image represents a tragic and important time in history, its it still visually beautiful. This photograph captures the essence of the Great Depression. I love the fact that a simple image of a mother and her children can represent so much. It’s crazy to me that this photograph was still published despite Thompson’s wishes.

  3. I think that this photograph represents the country as a whole during the Great Depression. I feel that this photograph is symbolic of all the other mothers trying to care for their families during this same time period.

  4. This photo is really interesting to me. It captures the harsh realities of the Great Depression in a beautiful way. The crisp nature of the photograph brings the suffering and desperation of the mother to life. This photo evokes strong emotions that individuals of all generations can relate to.

  5. This photo is truly captivating, the candid expressions convey a powerful message of how mothers struggled to provide for their children during the Great Depression. Even though this time period was filled with hardship, it is evident in this picture that family bonds had remained strong by the way the two boys are holding on to their mother.

  6. The photo is one that we all have seen before in one history class. It is truly one of the greatest photos of the twentieth century. It shows how a woman had to take care of her two kids during the Great Depression. It captures her pain, but it also shows strength in her facial expression. This photograph shows how so little can really illustrate a whole period of time.

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