I was looking up the Great Depression a couple evenings ago, to refresh myself on some of the facts. The Faux network in the US is floating the latest revisionist historical talking point that FDR's new deal prolonged and deepened the depression...."all historians agree....." David Sirota wrote a diary about it, one of those hilarious yet frightening Faux newz fabrications that they hope will take hold.
During my subsequent web tangent, (That's where you start in one place, and then end up in a totally different place just by following link to link to link.....) I found I was following individual stories more than the actual data and statistics, people are so much more interesting aren't they?.....I bumped into this famous photo
Public Domain, from Wiki.
That photo resides in the US Library of Congress.Many people will recognize it instantly, it is iconic and representative of the dirty 30's.
But who is that woman? The photo is labeled, Migrant Mother- "Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California ."
The identity of this woman was not made public until many years later, when Florence Owens Thompson penned a letter to her local paper....
It was in the late 1970s that Thompson’s identity was first made public, when the Associated Press sent a story over the wires entitled, "Woman Fighting Mad Over Famous Depression Photo." Thompson had written a letter to the editor of her local newspaper expressing her disdain for the image.
In the AP story, Thompson declared that she felt "exploited" by Lange’s portrait. "I wish she hadn’t taken my picture," she declared. "I can’t get a penny out of it. [Lange] didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures. She said she’d send me a copy. She never did." The photo had become yet another cross for Thompson to bear in a lifetime of hardships.
Florence Owens Thompson was born on a Cherokee Indian reservation, her parents both were full blooded native Americans. She was raised near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and married in 1921 at the age of 17. Within a few years time, with three children in tow and another on the way, the family left for California. In 1931, her husband passed away from tuberculosis. They had 6 children by then. Florence worked picking in the fields during the day, and waitressing at night. She had a relationship with an influential man, and a child by him who she took to her parents in Oklahoma because she feared he and his family would take the baby, Charlie, away from her.
The whole family including Florence's parents ended up going back to California the next year, following the work. She met another man, kind of a nice ne'er do well, and had three more children, one of whom passed away before her second birthday.
That brings us to 1936, and the fateful day of the photo.....When Dorothea Lange found this rag tag family...The car had broken down, and they were waiting for a repair so they could go work picking lettuce in the Pajaro Valley.
In the field notes that she filed with her Nipomo photographs, Lange included the following description: "Seven hungry children. Father is native Californian. Destitute in pea pickers’ camp ... because of failure of the early pea crop. These people had just sold their tires to buy food."
Owens [Florence's son] scoffed at the description. "There’s no way we sold our tires, because we didn’t have any to sell," he told this writer. "The only ones we had were on the Hudson and we drove off in them. I don’t believe Dorothea Lange was lying, I just think she had one story mixed up with another. Or she was borrowing to fill in what she didn’t have."
The photo appeared in the paper soon after that, and prompted (guilted?) the Feds to send 20,000 pounds of food to the pea picker camp in Nipomo. The family had already moved on by then.
Hard times continued for this family, until after WWII. And the photo haunted them.
One of Florence's daughters said:
"Mother was a woman who loved to enjoy life, who loved her children," said Rydlewski. "She loved music and she loved to dance. When I look at that photo of mother, it saddens me. That’s not how I like to remember her."
It doesn't end there though, a bittersweet, ironic ending to this story of the woman who has become the face that represented all those who suffered through the great depression.
When Florence became incapacitated after a stroke and needed full time care, the family was unable to pay the $1400+ per week. So one of her sons talked to a local newspaper, and a fund was set up.
Owens turned to Jack Foley of the San Jose Mercury News, who understood immediately the historic implications of Florence Thompson’s plight.
The story Foley filed for the Mercury generated national attention. More than $35,000 poured into a special Migrant Mother Fund administered by Hospice Caring Project of Santa Cruz County, much of it coming in the form of rumpled dollar bills.
Some of the letters that came in with the donations....Florence Owens Thompson was not a subject of pity to anyone. She was a symbol of strength and survival. She was a mother who managed to keep the family together, fed and whole. And that is how people think of her. She was a mother first in every way.
"The famous picture of your mother for years gave me great strength, pride and dignity–only because she exuded those qualities so," wrote a woman from Santa Clara.
"Enclosed is a check for $10 to assist the woman whose face gave and still gives eloquent expression to the need our country still has not met," expressed an anonymous note from New York.
So much more than a photo. She represents all mothers who struggle daily to scratch the ground in what is still a man's world. Poverty always hits women and their children the hardest. When you look through the millennia the mens get all the credit, but it has always been the women and the mothers who have ensured our survival.
Source: Photographic license. Definitely worth a read in it's entirety.