See Dorothea Lange’s iconic Migrant Mother photos from the Great Depression

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Florence Thompson -Migrant Mother

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One of the most iconic images of the Great Depression was this photo of Florence Thompson taken by Dorothea Lange.

The pictures were part of the “Migrant Mother” series, documenting the conditions of extreme poverty among some California farmworkers.

Here, see the original photograph that came to represent this era, a colorized version of the same image, and four other pictures that were taken at the time.

According to a 1983 story in the Modesto Bee, Florence Thompson died from cancer on September 16th of that year.

She spent her last weeks at the home of her son Troy — one of her ten children — who lived in Scotts Valley, California. 

For a deeper look back at the real story behind these photos, and what it meant to Florence and her family, see this excellent 2003 interview with her children in the San Luis Obispo New Times.

Migrant Mother photos: Florence Thompson with two of her children (1936)

“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet,” Dorothea Lange told Popular Photography in 1960.

“I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction.

Migrant worker Florence Thompson and children (1930s) by Dorothea Lange (2)

“I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food.

ALSO SEE: The Great Depression: Newspaper headlines from the 1929 stock market crash

“There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.”

Vintage Great Depression photo of Florence Thompson - Colorized


“Migrant mother” and three of her children

Migrant worker Florence Thompson (1930s) photo by Dorothea Lange

Migrant worker Florence Thompson and children (1930s) by Dorothea Lange (1)

Migrant worker Florence Thompson and children (1930s) by Dorothea Lange (3)

Migrant worker Florence Thompson (1930s) photo by Dorothea Lange - Original black and white

These photos, as described by the Library of Congress (but not all correct): “Migrant agricultural worker’s family. Seven hungry children. Mother aged thirty-two. Father is a native Californian. Destitute in pea picker’s camp, Nipomo, California, because of the failure of the early pea crop. These people had just sold their tent in order to buy food. Of the twenty-five hundred people in this camp, most of them were destitute.”

ALSO SEE: All about The Waltons, the nostalgic 1970s hit TV series about family life during the Great Depression

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