Image 'Washington, DC Government charwoman', 1942

TLF ID M008597

This is a famous black-and-white anti-discrimination photograph, also widely known as 'American Gothic, Washington, DC'. It shows Mrs Ella Watson, an African American cleaner at the Treasury in Washington, USA. She is standing stiffly in front of the US flag, with a broom on one side and a mop on the other. The photograph was taken by Gordon Parks.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This photograph is a valuable resource for years 9 to 12 English especially in relation to vectors in visual texts. Vertical vectors dominate the photograph. Ella Watson stands straight in the bottom half of the image. Her mop and broom are held upright. The flag is hung vertically. The vectors carry the eye down to Watson, who appears dwarfed by the flag. These dominant vectors help construct the photograph's complex meaning.
  • The photograph carries a strong message and is of value for years 11 and 12 Modern History studies of the civil rights movement in the USA. Watson's pose beneath the flag highlights her isolation and positions her as both a victim and a survivor. Even though the flag symbolised US democratic rights and freedoms, most of Washington's public facilities, schools and housing were segregated by law or practice and Watson faced daily discrimination.
  • Gordon Parks was an African American photographer employed by the Farm Security Administration (FSA), a federal agency established under President Roosevelt's 'New Deal' policies. Parks created the photograph in reaction to the repeated racism he encountered in Washington restaurants and shops when he arrived to work for the FSA. He modelled the pose on that in the painting 'American gothic' by Grant Wood.
Learning area
  • English
  • History

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Gordon Parks
  • Description: author
  • Contributor
  • Name: The Library of Congress
  • Organization: The Library of Congress
  • Description: content provider
  • Address: UNITED STATES
  • URL:
  • Person: Gordon Parks
  • 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
  • Generic
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.