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On the Road: 1939

On the Road: 1939

September 1939. "On the road with her family one month from South Dakota. Tulelake, Siskiyou County, Calif." Photo by Dorothea Lange. View full size.


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No Formula

Formula for babies didn't exist in the '30's. That poor little baby was probably drinking water. The richer folks used Pet milk with Karo syrup mixed in.

I guess I never really knew what poverty was.

When my wife and I served as Missionaries of the Episcopal Church in Honduras we saw what poverty truly is. Most folks in the US will never see it. We have so many safety nets in the US that are not available in the rest of the world. Still in the heart of bone-crushing poverty in Central America, I saw acts of filial and agape love that can only be classified as holy.

The Great Depression

Growing up in the 60's and 70's I'd often heard my parents talk about the Great Depression. Mom came from a fairly wealthy family in Warren, Ohio. Her father owned a coal business and by all accounts did very well. He allowed people to buy the coal they needed to heat their homes on credit during the Depression and very few were ever able to pay. The business went under like so many other of the era and Mom's family lost everything.

My father was raised on a farm in rural Arkansas. He told stories of many traveling drifters and families coming to their door begging for food. His mom would give them food -- vegetables they raised on the farm and a few biscuits that she's put in a gunny sack for them to take.

Dad always said they had no money but his family was much better off then most because they at least had enough to eat most of the time.

The Depression had a very profound effect on my parents and most of their generation. Dad was a union plumber for years and opened his own plumbing business and did very well. As a kid I never remember a shortage of anything but not so the case with my parents.

We had a huge garden and Mom would can and freeze everything the garden produced. My brothers and I hated that damn garden. We spent our whole summer tending it and always thought our parents were crazy for going to all the hard work and trouble of having such a large garden.

We couldn't understand why because my father earned a very good living and we always had plenty. Mom always said if you've ever gone hungry, truly hungry, you never forget the experience and at some point in their lives during the depression they both indeed did go hungry so that huge garden was vital to them.

To the rest of us it was just a big pain in the ass!

After seeing Miss Lange's photographs of Depression era families and the terrible conditions that existed during the 30's I have a much greater understanding of my parents' attitude. I've concluded that what I see as modern day poverty doesn't begin to compare to what my parent's generation experienced!

I guess I never really knew what poverty was. Miss Lange's photographs are haunting and heartbreaking yet very beautifully human. Through her photos I've learned there is a big difference in being penniless and being poor. Being flat broke is one thing but being poor is being without hope for anything to get any better.

Her photos clearly show the hopeless look in the eyes of her subjects and to me that shows true poverty and what being poor is all about. During my adult life I've been as broke as you can get but I never felt poor because I always had hope for a better day ahead.

Thank you Miss Lange for a greater understanding of my parents and what true poverty really is.

The Mother

The mother is so beautiful. Had this been 2007, she would have made a great model.

Reveal pain with Paint

I would like to obtain permission to use this photo as a reference to paint (watercolor) from. How can that happen?

[Permission hereby granted to paint your painting. Not that you would really need it. - Dave]


This is a very woebegone picture.

What an expression

This poor mother is exhausted! I have to wonder what ever became of the child. Powerful and sad!

A fly on the baby's finger

Great photograph with amazing detail. Noticed the fly on the right hand pink and what looks like two more on and behind the left hand.


This is an amazing picture... there is so much captured here, and the high quality gives makes it almost unreal - like it's a play rather than real life.


It is a very moving image. Dave do you have a detail of the reflection in the mother's glasses? Looks like it may be interesting?

[As a matter of fact, I do. - Dave]


Such a powerful photo; such desperation in the eyes of the mother. Lange did have the knack of catching the telling moment.


this picture doesn't look 75ish years old.

[Well it is. It's pretty famous too. - Dave]

Really sad

its a very powerful photo and I agree with the first post, you can sense the pain

Ah. Makes sense. :)

Ah. Makes sense.
Generally they go behind the ear. ;)

Yeah, they're wrap-around

Yeah, they're wrap-around aviator rim glasses.

Is there something on Mom's

Is there something on Mom's ear?

A good photograph!

This is a powerful picture. I hope we never see these times again in this country.

Are they drinking Coca-Cola?

Are they drinking Coca-Cola?

[It's a Coke bottle with a rubber nipple being used for baby formula. - Dave]

Such a sad photo

Such a sad photo. It's almost as if you could sense their pain by looking at it.

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