Labor History in 2:00

October 11 - The Woman Behind the Lens Passes On

October 11, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1965. 

That was the day acclaimed photojournalist Dorothea Lange died.

She is celebrated for her work documenting the Great Depression for the Farm Security Bureau. 

Lange’s photos captured images of migrant workers, sharecroppers and the rural poor.

Her iconic photo, Migrant Mother, is probably her most well known image.

It depicts a despondent, Dust Bowl mother surrounded by her hungry children. 

Lange was born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1895.

She suffered the effects of polio as a child, which left her with a permanent limp. 

She studied photography at Columbia University in New York, and eventually settled in the Bay Area. 

When the Great Depression hit, she began photographing labor strikes, breadlines and soup kitchens, the homeless and unemployed.

The Resettlement Administration hired her soon after. 

Nowadays, we can access images from around the world at a moment’s notice that broaden our understanding of current events. 

But until the 1930s, few Americans could access media that adequately depicted the desperate social conditions engulfing the nation. 

Federal programs that funded projects like Lange’s brought Depression-era images into the public eye. 

Americans soon realized their suffering wasn’t caused by personal failure; that millions across the country were experiencing destitution brought on by broader economic forces. 

During World War II, Lange worked for the War Relocation Authority, where she documented forced evacuation and internment of Japanese-Americans. 

Her images, especially of Manzanar, were withheld from the public until after the war and were accessible to the public through the National Archives. 

After the war, she taught at San Francisco’s Art Institute and cofounded the magazine Aperture

She has been heralded as an innovator and has influenced generations of documentary photography.

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