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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Broke, Baby Sick: 1937

Broke, Baby Sick: 1937

February 1937. "Tracy (vicinity), California. U.S. Highway 99. Missouri family of five, seven months from the drought area. Broke, baby sick, car trouble." Photo by Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.

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I applaud the sympathetic comments

As we might hope to expect, this photo elicits much sympathy for the family's plight, which is clearly no fault of their own. Would that the same were true of every Depression-era photo on Shorpy.

All too often, there are claims that folks are reaping the wages of their own bad choices; that they should "pull themselves up by their bootstraps". Those comments are curiously absent here.

I might advance a theory as to why. Obviously this woman is wearing a fashionable hat, or recently fashionable, anyway. Her collar and cuffs are fur-lined. She has been to a hairdresser sometime in the last six months. Her clothes are as clean as could be reasonably expected for somebody living in an old car. This family clearly had stable employment, and money in the bank, until very recently.

I might look at her and think, that could have been me. (Actually, I am thinking that.)

And if you are thinking that, you are realizing what my grandparents' generation knew, from bitter firsthand experience:

None of this was their fault.


Sick baby, broken down car, no money. It must have been tempting to simply give up in the face of all these obstacles. But I'm sure these folks kept going and somehow overcame the situation. That seems to be the typical story of Depression-era families, including that of my grandparents. "Never give up - better times are ahead" is a guiding principle I was raised to believe, and it's proven to be true in my life.

Hope everyone made it okay.

Whenever you see a picture like this, it puts your problems right back in perspective.

There's a song in there somewhere

"Broke, Baby Sick, Car Trouble"


There are numerous photographs depicting this kind of scene on Shorpy; yet if there were a thousand, each would bring a lump to one's throat.

To see people in this predicament; the woman, with her jaunty hat, inappropriate for the situation, with a half smile on her face as she gazes on her child; plunged into the depths of poverty, and almost entitled, given her circumstances, to despair; that so many didn't despair is astonishing, maybe; but we know that so many of you Americans are exemplars of a stout and stubborn breed. That was obvious after the recent tornadoes. I didn't see many people whingeing - just picking themselves up.

As we once coined, and you, on so many occasions, have practiced; "Keep Calm, and Carry On".

The Quality of Mercy

I wonder if Dorothea Lange or any of the other photographers of the dispossessed ever shelled out a little spare change to their subjects. You know, to help a brother or sister on the road.

Fancy ropework

Someone spent a lot of time making sure eveything on that trailer stays in place, but I expect that a few miles down the road they're going to hit a bump and eveything will blow away, because one of the lengths of rope is frayed.

Highway 99

Seems like everyone got stranded on that Highway.

I hope

I hope that the baby got better, the car was fixed and the man found a job. So sad...I hope life got easier for them.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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