Name These Famous Photos
This Famous Antique Game - March 2013
by Mike McLeod
This photo was identified by: Ted Carlton of Nevada and Utah correctly identified this photo—and all of the other famous photos listed on our
website; Pat Kimbrell of Old School Antique Mall in Sylva, N.C., Teresa Bland, a collector, who also correctly identified all of the additional famous photos posted on the website; and Sherron Lawson of Roswell, Ga.
This famous photograph is titled, Migrant Mother, and it is of Florence Owens Thompson, a migrant farm worker. It was taken in 1936 by Dorothea Lange, a staff photographer documenting migrant workers for the Resettlement Administration (later the Farm Security Administration). Although the photo has become the icon of the Depression, Florence Thompson has just that day stopped in the pea-picker camp because the timing chain on the family’s Hudson broke near there. Her husband and two sons were away in the next town, Nipono, Calif., getting a part repaired. Lange took six photos of Florence and the children there and left in ten minutes. Not long thereafter, the car was repaired, and the family moved on to find work.
Thompson’s photo became famous, but it did nothing for her immediate needs, which was a bitter disappointment for most of her life. As a government worker, Lange provided photos to newspapers free of charge. However, the photo did greatly benefit the 3,000 or so destitute migrant workers in the camp. (A crop failure had left most of them without work or food.) After Lang sent the photos to the Resettlement Administration, the government sent 20,000 lbs. of food to the pea-picker camp. Thompson’s family was long gone by then.
It was not until 1983 when Thompson was 85 and requiring around-the-clock nursing care in 1983 that her famous photo provided any kind of financial support. Her son appealed to the newspapers for help in paying for the $1,400 per week nursing care she required, and after that story was published, more than 2,000 letters came in with donations totaling about $35,000.
Dorothea Lange took the famous photo,
Migrant Mother, of Florence Thompson.
By this time, Florence Thompson was not conscious of her surroundings, and she never knew that her photo finally helped her after all. She died in 1983, and the title of her famous photo is included on her gravestone: “FLORENCE LEONA THOMPSON Migrant Mother – A Legend of the Strength of American Motherhood. September 1, 1903 – September 16, 1983,”1 She is buried in Hughson, Calif.
Florence had a hard life, but it wasn’t without joy. A few of her children were interviewed in 2002 about their mother, and their opinion of her was not reflected in that photo.
“‘Mother was a woman who loved to enjoy life, who loved her children,’ said Rydlewski (the baby daughter in the photo). ‘She loved music and she loved to dance. When I look at that photo of mother, it saddens me. That’s not how I like to remember her.”
“Rydlewski noted that while the Depression was hard on her family, it was not all suffering. ‘Mama and daddy would take us to the movies a lot. We’d go to the carnival whenever it was in town, little things like that. We listened to the radio. If they had any money at all, they’d get us ice cream…. We also had our fun.’”2
1 Santa Cruz Wiki, https://scruzwiki.org/Florence_Thompson.
2 Geoffrey Dunn, “Photographic License,” New Times, 2002.