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Uprooted: 1940

Uprooted: 1940

July 1940. Berrien County, Michigan. "Migrant mother of family from Arkansas in roadside camp of cherry pickers." Our second look at the lady seen here last week. 35mm nitrate negative by John Vachon. View full size.


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Picture brings back memories

That woman closely resembles my mother in 1940. When I was 5 years old, my mother, my sister, and I were living in a converted chicken coop on my uncle's farm in Oklahoma, while my father was looking for work in Kansas. Many a day our only food was beans and bread. I appreciate the compassion shown by many posters on this site for the plight of common folk at this time in American history. Gotta say, WWII saved the economy of this country.

And yet --

She has an automobile, a rather considerable capital asset that lets her and her family go in search of work. The muscles on her bare arms and legs are well-fleshed, and she doesn't show the signs of chronic malnutrition. I can see a number of cooking and serving vessels, large and small, and a couple of pieces of simple furniture. She's poor, yes, but by the standards of an African villager or a Brazilian favelista, who would regard the chipped enamel cooking pot as wealth to be proud of, she's incredibly well off.

Mawkishness isn't to be avoided. We should always have sympathy for those less fortunate, but we should also be alert to attempts to manipulate that sympathy. What this woman and her family need is a busy productive economy, which they can contribute to and earn their share. All too often we've allowed the cynical to use "abject poverty" as an excuse for redistributionism, which feathers their nests rather comfortably from the reasonable expenses they take out in the process but makes the problem worse by crippling the overall economy.

Why I like it here

This is a great group here, with a rare talent; the ability to look at a black-and-white image from long ago, and care about the people in it.

The face of sheer hopelessness

I was thinking along precisely the lines of SlamDance when I saw this picture. It isn't only this one; there are numerous others on this site which depict people in similar situations. Most of these people don't just look tired; I imagine they had always been used to simple hardship, and hard work; here, one can see the utter dejection, the misery, and the hopelessness in their faces. It is awful to imagine just how hopeless they must have felt. I imagine that a reasonable number of them had been, some time previously, whilst not in any way wealthy, at least able to have shelter and to be able to get their daily bread.

That woman's privations are now almost certainly over. Maybe her children, if she had some, still remember her tears when she could maybe not provide food some days. Of course, there are teeming millions around the world in just such a situation today.

My apologies for being mawkish; but, gosh, what images these pictures conjure up ....

Leicestershire, England


appears to be pregnant. No wonder she's exhausted.

Previous comments

The two odd comments above are obviously referring to the "Boys to Men" image right behind this one. Odd glitch in posting, I guess.

Cute edit Dave

My comment was meant for the post "Boys to Men," smartypants.
I suggest you tell those boys that they were skirts.

[Were? Wear? - Dave]

Modern migrants

I think that some of the people who make comments about how people today don't know how to work should go visit a migrant workers' camp today. Sure they have more than they did in this picture, but their living conditions are not significantly better. Our country is lucky that we don't have a large portion of a population that lives so poorly, but it doesn't mean that this still doesn't occur; only the demographic of the migrant has changed.

Picture does me good

I needed to see it this morning. Sometimes you forget all you have to be happy about. Poor lady, I hope she had some happy times.


As I sit here eating my morning oatmeal and seeing this photo, I'm thinking....How lucky I am!!

Indescribably sad

This picture makes my heart ache just looking at it. Even the majority of 'poor' people in this country (the US) have it good in this day and age compared to poor people then. Today (and hopefully beyond) I'll make a conscious effort to appreciate the most simple things we take for granted. A shower, a refrigerator, air conditioning, a comfortable bed, the list is endless.

Truer Image (IMO)

This picture emphasizes the nomadic lifestyle, lack of creature comforts and the stress of being a migrant worker then. In the previous picture she appeared almost as a harried soccer Mom. Here fatigue is evident in her face.

Note the broken mirror propped in front of the washing basin in front of the rear fender.

And someone should tell her that her slip is beginning to show.

Hard times

Not an iPhone or iPod in sight, folks think they have it hard today.


Just think of the uproar if we tried this with the unemployed youth of today, the very idea of work would scare them shitless and the ACLU would have their underwear in knots screaming "abuse." These boys liked a hard day's work and they looked it, bet they walked standing tall not slouched and shuffling, true young men, boys are like horses if not worked hard when they are young they are never much use when mature, need to be pushed all the time.

[Back during the Depression, my granddad had to wear the same dress two whole years. - Dave]


Lindsy Lohan has really hit the skids!

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