Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Face of the Great Depression

Perhaps the most famous and haunting photograph from the Great Depression was Dorothea Lange's 1936 "Migrant Mother." Lange identified her subject only as "a 32 year old mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California."

Fast-forward to the late 1970s, when the migrant mother herself, Florence Owens Thompson, came forward in an AP article titled "Woman Fighting Mad Over Famous Depression Photo."

Thompson had written a letter to the editor of her local newspaper expressing her disdain for the image.

In the AP story, Thompson declared that she felt "exploited" by Lange’s portrait. "I wish she hadn’t taken my picture," she declared. "I can’t get a penny out of it. [Lange] didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures. She said she’d send me a copy. She never did." The photo had become yet another cross for Thompson to bear in a lifetime of hardships. [Link, via]
Ironically, Thompson was not a Depression-era migrant to California: she'd been there since 1926. She died in 1983 and was buried in Empire, California, beneath a gravestone that reads: "Migrant Mother–A Legend of the Strength of American Motherhood."

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