The Woman Who Photographed America’s Darkest Days

You’ve seen her photos. Do you know the woman behind the camera?

Taylor B.
History of Women
Published in
4 min readMar 8, 2022

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Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the early 1910s, a young woman drops out of a teacher’s college to pursue a career in photography. Photography is still in its infancy and many condemned the young woman for leaving the security of a teaching job to become a photographer, a strange new profession that was largely the domain of men.

Dorothea Lange is Born

She was born Dorothea Nutzhorn in 1895 but later dropped her father’s surname and adopted her mother’s surname, Lange, instead.

Newly christened as Dorothea Lange, she studied art at Columbia University and worked as an apprentice for various male photographers. She worked in portrait studios throughout the 1910s and 1920s. In the 1930s, she began working as a photojournalist.

The Great Depression

On a dreary day in 1936, Lange approaches a starving woman in California. She works as a pea farmer and her husband has recently died of tuberculosis. The woman and her 7 children struggle to survive by eating only frozen vegetables while living in a makeshift campsite. Lange snaps a shot of the mother and her children. It is only one of the thousands of photos she takes during the Great Depression.

Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress.

The photo is later published in San Francisco News. The response from the photo results in the U.S government sending 20,000 pounds of food to the campsite where the woman and her children live. The photo becomes forever known as “Migrant Mother”. It remains the most famous photo from the Great Depression era.

Revealing Racist Motivations

In the 1940s, Lange is once again hired by the U.S government as a photographer. This time, she is required to photograph Japanese Americans who are being sent to internment camps following the attack on pearl harbor.

Lange’s photos reveal the racist motivations behind the internment camps. Japanese American citizens were uprooted from their homes…

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Taylor B.
History of Women

I write about women's history and issues that impact women.