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Route 99: 1939

Route 99: 1939

February 1939. "On U.S. 99 near Brawley, Imperial County, California. Homeless mother and youngest child of seven walking the highway from Phoenix, Arizona, where they picked cotton. Bound for San Diego, where the father hopes to get on relief 'because he once lived there.'" Medium-format nitrate negative by Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Particularly Sad

There is something uniquely sad about this obviously very poor woman wearing a worn fur coat. Does the coat imply she was in better financial position in the past? Was it purchased in a worn used state? One can only wonder.

my heritage

This is what my grandparents endured as small children when they emigrated to California from Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Ms. Lange's unique style

She never fails to reveal the deepest pathos of her subjects.

Ummmm check on this

US 99 never ran through Phoenix; it ran from the Mexican border in California to Blane, Washington. So she didn't walk US 99 from Phoenix as inferred in the note about the photograph. US 60 ran from the Arizona state line where it connected to US 70 to then connect to US 99. So she walked the highways, not highway.


Good thing it's February, Brawley is nearly intolerable in the Summer.

Worn out

The baby is lucky to have shoes. My mother didn't own a pair until 1940 when she was 11. She picked a lot of cotton during the Depression too as a migrant worker in the Arkansas-Oklahoma-Texas border area. An interesting aside: In the late 1960s Mother asked us kids what "soul food" was. We told her. Her reaction was, "Soul food! That's poor people food and I've eaten enough of that."

Tough Beginnings

This baby would be somewhere between 73 and 75 today if she made it through those hardscrabble years and is still around. Hopefully life got better and she did experience more good times as the economy improved. I'd like to think there was sufficient joy in her life to bring about contentment and fulfillment as time went on. As for mom, as one elderly lady once told me "When your kids hurt, you hurt too." This mom's face does convey the pain of a struggle to take care of a family (as another child is visible in the extreme left margin) and reminds us that life is not always just a bowl of cherries.

[As noted in the caption, this lady had seven kids. - Dave]

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