Image 'Migrant mother', 1936

TLF ID M008592

This is one of the most famous photographs of the Great Depression in the USA. It shows Florence Owens Thompson aged 32 huddled together with three of her seven children (the baby is obscured). The family as a whole are described in the Library of Congress catalogue as 'migrant' (ie itinerant) pea pickers in California left destitute by the failure of the early pea crop due to frost damage. The photograph was taken by Dorothea Lange.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This photograph is a valuable source for years 11 and 12 Modern History studies of the USA during the inter-war years. It is one of the classic representations of the devastating effect of the Great Depression on mothers and children in rural USA. Florence Thompson and the three children were photographed in their small lean-to shelter in a camp of around 2500 itinerant workers. Most were in a desperate situation.
  • It is also a useful resource for years 9 to 12 English in relation to visual texts. Analysing the photograph reveals its complexity and the way the family is positioned helps construct its meaning. The photograph has been retouched - Thompson's thumb and index finger can be seen on the far right grasping a pole. Part of her thumb is visible only as a ghostly outline. Perhaps it was thought that the thumb spoilt the composition of the photograph.
  • Photographer Dorothea Lange later recalled that Thompson had said that the desperate and starving family were living on frozen vegetables from the fields and birds the children caught. Their car tyres and tent had been sold for food. Lange took five photographs of the family for the Federal Resettlement Administration (RA), the rural antipoverty agency in President Roosevelt's 'New Deal'. The RA believed that photographs such as this one would help build support for its program.
Learning area
  • English
  • History

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Dorothea Lange
  • Description: author
  • Contributor
  • Name: The Library of Congress
  • Organization: The Library of Congress
  • Description: content provider
  • Address: UNITED STATES
  • URL:
  • Person: Dorothea Lange
  • Description: author
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: Vic, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Unknown
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Commonwealth of Australia, 2010, except where indicated otherwise. You may copy, communicate and modify this material for non-commercial educational purposes provided you retain all acknowledgements associated with the material.