Migrant Mother Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother - Photograph by Dorothea Lange

[dropcap type=”2″]The[/dropcap] image of a 32 years old mother meant to be an iconic symbol of the big depression of the 1930s. The image was taken in 1936 and it was part of a series of 6 images that Dorothea Lange, an American photojournalist, took in less than 10 minutes in an American field in California. The Library of Congress entitled the image, “Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California”, known nowadays as “Migrant Mother”.

Migrant mother - Unretouched
Migrant mother – Unretouched

Florence Thompson was a mother of seven. In a country with a destroyed economy and skyrocketed unemployment rates, she was trying to survive and feed her kids. Dorothea was a documentary photographer who tried to make an impact with her images and raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis.

As the jobs were limited, Florence was forced to live in a mobile house and travel seeking for work on a daily basis. Her name was not discovered until the 1970’s , when NBC’s Bob Dotson tracked her down to a trailer camp in California and spoke to her about everything she went through during the big depression.

Florence got married in young age and gave birth to three children. Her husband died when she was 27. During the depression she re-married and had another four children. The day that the image was taken, they were travelling towards the lettuce fields hoping to find work. The car broke down and they stopped in a pea-picker’s camp which was the home of more than 2000 people. Dorothea Lange photographed the family under their tent and send the images for publishing to San Francisco News.

Florence claimed later that Dorothea promised the photos would never be published. For the history, those images alerted the government which sent a significant amount of food for the starving people.

MIgrant mother - 5 photos
MIgrant mother – 5 photos

In Bob Dotson’s documentary, Florence talks about her life :

‘I don’t think you could take a woman today and put her out and do what I done to make a living,’ she said, her face heavily lined through years of hardship.

‘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.’

When Dotson asked her if she ever lost hope she replied with a simple “Nope, If I’d ever left hope I’d never made it”

Florence Owen Thompson died in 1983 in the age of 80. She never made a penny out of the photograph that symbolised a whole era of the American history. The image was issued as a 32 cent U.S. stamp in 1998. A print of the photograph with Lange’s handwritten notes and signature sold in 1998 for $244,500. Lange’s personal print sold for $141,500 in 2002.




Photographs are taken from the Library of Congress.


  1. truly an example of ‘a picture says it better than a thousand words’. Also a telling comment that people other than the one in the image ultimately made money out of someone’s tragedy.


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