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November 22, 2014

40 Amazing Dust Bowl’s Photographs Taken by Dorothea Lange During the 1930s

The Dust Bowl, also known as the Dirty Thirties, was a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the U.S and Canadian prairies during the 1930s; severe drought and a failure to apply dryland farming methods to prevent wind erosion caused the phenomenon. The photography of Dorothea Lange is as closely associated with American farmers’ struggle against drought and dust in the Depression era. The photographs show the devastation that drove the Dust Bowl refugees to leave their homes and migrate to California. They also depict the lives of these families on the road west.

Documentary photographer Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) is best known for her work during the 1930s with Roosevelt’s Farm Security Administration (FSA). In the midst of the Great Depression, Lange brought her large Graflex camera out of the studio and onto the streets. Her photos of the homeless and unemployed in San Francisco’s breadlines, labor demonstrations, and soup kitchens led to a job with the FSA.

From 1935 to 1939, Lange’s arresting FSA images—drawing upon her strength as a portrait photographer—brought the plight of the nation's poor and forgotten peoples, especially sharecroppers, displaced families, and migrant workers, into the public eye. Her image “Migrant Mother” is arguably the best-known documentary photograph of the 20th century and has become a symbol of resilience in the face of adversity.

Lange’s reports from the field included not just photographs, but the words of the people with whom she’d spoken, quoted directly. “Something is radical wrong,” one told her; another said, “I don’t believe the President knows what’s happening to us here.” Lange also included her own observations. “They have built homes here out of nothing,” she wrote, referring to the cardboard and plywood “Okievilles” scattered throughout California’s Central Valley. “They have planted trees and flowers. These flimsy shacks represent many a last stand to maintain self-respect.”

Family walking on highway, five children. Started from Idabel, Oklahoma. Bound for Krebs, Oklahoma. Pittsburg County, Oklahoma. In 1936 the father farmed on thirds and fourths at Eagleton, McCurtain County, Oklahoma. Was taken sick with pneumonia and lost farm. Unable to get work on Work Projects Administration and refused county relief in county of fifteen years residence because of temporary residence in another county after his illness.

A Dust Bowl farm. Coldwater District, north of Dalhart, Texas. This house is occupied; most of the houses in this district have been abandoned.

Drought-stricken farmer and family near Muskogee, Oklahoma. Agricultural day laborer. Muskogee County.

Wagoner County, Oklahoma.

The highway going West. U.S. 80 near Lordsburg, New Mexico.

Example of self-resettlement in California. Oklahoma farm family on highway between Blythe and Indio. Forced by the drought of 1936 to abandon their farm, they set out with their children to drive to California. Picking cotton in Arizona for a day or two at a time gave them enough for food and gas to continue. On this day, they were within a day's travel of their destination, Bakersfield, California. Their car had broken down en route and was abandoned.

Four families, three of them related with fifteen children, from the Dust Bowl in Texas in an overnight roadside camp near Calipatria, California.

Billboard along U.S. 99 behind which three destitute families of migrants are camped. Kern County, California.

Drought refugees from Texas encamped in California near Exeter. Seven in family.

Brawley, Imperial Valley, In Farm Security Administration (FSA) migratory labor camp.

In a carrot pullers' camp near Holtville, California.

1936 drought refugee from Polk, Missouri. Awaiting the opening of orange picking season at Porterville, California.

Old time professional migratory laborer camping on the outskirts of Perryton, Texas at opening of wheat harvest. With his wife and growing family, he has been on the road since marriage, thirteen years ago. Migrations include ranch land in Texas, cotton and wheat in Texas, cotton and timber in New Mexico, peas and potatoes in Idaho, wheat in Colorado, hops and apples in Yakima Valley, Washington, cotton in Arizona. He wants to buy a little place in Idaho.

Ex-tenant farmer from Texas, came to work in the fruit and vegetable harvests. Coachella Valley, California.

Near Meloland, Imperial Valley. Large scale agriculture. Gang labor, Mexican and white, from the Southwest. Pull, clean, tie and crate carrots for the eastern market for eleven cents per crate of forty-eight bunches. Many can make barely one dollar a day. Heavy oversupply of labor and competition for jobs is keen.

Carrot pullers from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Mexico. Coachella Valley, California. "We come from all states and we can't make a dollar a day in this field noways. Working from seven in the morning till twelve noon we earn an average of thirty five cents."

Cabbage cutting and hauling by new Vessey (flat truck) system, now also used in carrots and lettuce. Imperial Valley, California.

Pea pickers from Vermont - 6 weeks earnings $7.00 - at squatter's camp, Nipomo.

Ex-tenant farmer on relief grant in the Imperial Valley, California.

Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children.

Children of Oklahoma drought refugee in migratory camp in California.

A mother in California who with her husband and her two children will be returned to Oklahoma by the Relief Administration. This family had lost a two-year-old baby during the winter as a result of exposure.

Migrant workers' camp, outskirts of Marysville, California. The new migratory camps now being built by the Resettlement Administration will remove people from unsatisfactory living conditions such as these and substitute at least the minimum of comfort and sanitation.

Son of destitute migrant, American River camp, near Sacramento, California. The boy has dysentery.

Sick migrant child. Washington, Yakima Valley, Toppenish.

Migratory boy in squatter camp. Has come to Yakima Valley for the third year to pick hops. Mother: "You'd be surprised what that boy can pick." Washington, Yakima Valley.

Washington, Yakima Valley, near Wapato. One of Chris Adolph's younger children. Farm Security Administration Rehabilitation clients.

Car on siding across tracks from pea packing plant. Twenty-five year old itinerant, originally from Oregon. "On the road eight years, all over the country, every state in the union, back and forth, pick up a job here and there, travelling all the time." Calipatria, Imperial Valley.

Calipatria, Imperial Valley. Idle pea pickers discuss prospects for work. California.

Family who traveled by freight train. Washington, Toppenish, Yakima Valley.

Entering Farm Security Administration (FSA) camp for migratory laborers at Indio. Coachella Valley, California.

Heads of families on the Mineral King cooperative farm. Ten families are now established on this 500-acre ranch to be operated as a unit. (Farm Security Administration) Tulare County, California.

Family living in tent while building the house around them. Near Klamath Falls, Klamath county, Oregon.

Ball game. Shafter migrant camp. California. Mid - Water supply, American River camp, California, San Joaquin Valley.

Water supply, American River camp, California, San Joaquin Valley.

Migrant worker on California highway.

Billboard on U.S. Highway 99 in California. National advertising campaign sponsored by National Association of Manufacturers.

Waiting for the semimonthly relief checks at Calipatria, Imperial Valley, California. Typical story: fifteen years ago they owned farms in Oklahoma. Lost them through foreclosure when cotton prices fell after the war. Became tenants and sharecroppers. With the drought and dust they came West, 1934-1937. Never before left the county where they were born. Now although in California over a year they haven't been continuously resident in any single county long enough to become a legal resident. Reason: migratory agricultural laborers.

Water supply: an open settling basin from the irrigation ditch in a California squatter camp near Calipatria.

Eight boys at Lincoln Bench School. Born in six states. Near Ontario, Malheur County, Oregon.

(Photos by Dorothea Lange)


  1. Err....last picture = wardrobe malfunction?? Sorta?

  2. geisy arruda

  3. The last one is pretty typical Madonna! :)

  4. Not a malfunction. We had those dress shorts. She was just being Madonna.

  5. She was a skinny anorexic, so it makes sense how she has maintained her figure after children. She was not so hot then, eh?

  6. worked out with her...nice gal..

  7. She looks mentally wonder she prospered!!

  8. she is scarily thin in these pictures - this must have been the time when she had no money and just lived on a snack food (the name of which I forget), but when she first became famous she was known for being a little bit pudgy.




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