12 October 2011

Dust Bowl family (Dorothea Lange photo)

A 1935 photo by Dorothea Lange.  It seems about once a year I feature one of her photos; in 2008 I posted the "Migrant Mother" photo, with a story about the woman's daughter.  Then the one with the nursing nipple on a Coke bottle.  And the impoverished family in New Mexico:
Nine children including a sick four-month-old baby. No money at all. About to sell their belongings and trailer for money to buy food. 'We don't want to go where we'll be a nuisance to anybody.'
And last year the despondent "resettled farm child."   More people today need to understand what real economic hardship and despair is.  And I need to learn more about this photographer.  I've requested a book from the library; there are quite a few to choose from.  If someone has a suggestion for a best one, please let me know.

Via First Time User.


  1. That's nothing, they should have been glad for what they had instead of being indentured peasants in the middle ages.

    Do you see why saying that people today are not facing "real" hardship is a problem?

  2. @C
    You need to learn to take your time and read more carefully. Stan wrote "more people", not "people". And he's dead right: many westerners today consider it a hardship if they can't have their daily latte. Most people (at least in the western hemisphere) have never, EVER had it so good, and they need to quit their bitching & whining and get on with improving their own lives instead of sitting on their asses waiting for the gov't to do it for them. Start by watching less damn TV, getting some exercise, learning to cook instead of eating expensive processed junk and - most importantly - pay attention to your children's education!

  3. Can I just say thank you for posting these? I've seen people talk about how the recession is sort of like the Great Depression. It really isn't that bad (yet).

    It might get that bad, but I think we have a much longer fall before we reach the levels of sheer poverty and hardship that we saw in the 1930s.

  4. I recently read Jonathan Raban's, Bad Land. http://www.amazon.ca/Bad-Land-American-Jonathan-Raban/dp/0679759069
    When we see pictures of Okies, we need to realize that these people had pride. They had been land owners and fiercely proud of it.

  5. Whenever I see photos of Okies or others similarly displaced by the greedy, uncaring actions of others, what I notice the most is their expressions of bewildered, frustrated anger. They didn't "lose" their land: It was taken from them. Contrary to what we were told in history class, most people displaced during the Dustbowl Years did not leave their land willingly - they were forced from it by banks and other institutions who held their paper. Sound familiar?

  6. May I suggest "The Worst Hard Time" by Timothy Egan.
    It has some graphic descriptions of dust storms. I had no idea that the dust bowl was so big.

  7. Were it not for some of the Depression-era reforms (such as the FDIC, which has prevented runs on the banks), people today would be suffering every bit as much as people did during the 1930's.

    While we are not in as dire straits as we could be, the fact remains that we wouldn't be this bad off if wealth disparity had not been allowed to increase so dramatically in the last 30 years.

  8. @anonymous
    Don't believe for a second that the disparity was just "allowed" to happen. It is the product of many years of careful manipulation to make sure it happened.

  9. Reminds me of Stalin's ban on showing Hollywood's "The Grapes of Wrath" in the Soviet Union. Apparently it was being used in Post-War Poland as propaganda to showcase the horrors of U.S. capitalism. The attempt backfired badly -- what impressed the Polish audiences most was that after the Joads are forced off their farm, they drive away from it in their own vehicle. The lesson taught being, "In America even the poor have cars!!"

    Oh. By way of a couple of the other anonymous ones above - "wealth disparity" - whatever you think that means, and whether it's a bad thing or not - has precious little to do with with why our economy is in the dumps now and the trouble people are having in it. Basic economics is not a mystery cult, so learn some.

  10. Yeah, you just maintain your faith in "basic economics" like a good little worker bee. It makes it easier for you to bend over and grasp your ankles. Who do you think invented the theories behind basic economics, anyway? Have you never heard of the REAL golden rule: Those with the gold get to make the rules.

  11. I have worked most of the last 34 years as a design engineering temp. I was part owner of a small manufacturing company till the Crash of 2008 made it necessary to get out while I could. Now I work - as a temp in a much different economy - at a company that makes ice cream bars. The employees act like we all did when jobs were plentiful. I get the impression they have not been even slightly touched by all the economic turmoil. Daily I hear talk of pensions and who retired early in order to keep this or that cost down for their "golden years." It is like working in a surreal time warp.

    I was out of work for over two years. These folks have no idea what the rest of the world has been going through - even if it isn't as bad as the Great Depression. I keep resisting wondering what these people will say if and when they get bit like so many others have. I don't wish it upon them, but the comments about the unemployed and the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are incredibly FOX News/GOP - to hear them tell it, you'd think the OWS people were all welfare queens driving Cadillacs with big white walls (if you know what I mean). One comment: "Why aren't those people at their jobs?"

    I hardly know ANYONE who isn't scared for their jobs, who don't know what to spend anymore, because they don't know if they will be working in 6, 12 or 18 months. Now, to see people who act like it is the mid-1970s, I can't believe it.

    At the same time, those people are who we all were, not so long ago.

    (About 3 months before Lehman Brothers, I briefly dated a woman who had just used her home as an ATM and, among other things, had bought a BMW convertible with, probably, her kitchen. One of my first thoughts when the crash came was what ever happened to her, when the remaining, much-reduced equity in her home went Pffffft! , blowing right out of the convertible top...)

    A historic note... In 1932, the Bonus Army descended on Washington DC, and set up tents on the Mall. They were due, later on, a small payment from the government for their WWI wartime service, which was promised them. But they couldn't wait several more years - they needed it THEN. What was a long-term peaceful encampment ended when Douglas MacArthur used the Army to drive the Bonus Army from the Mall, burning and destroying not unlike Sherman on his march to the sea, but assisted by 6 tanks. The cost? Four veterans were killed and 1,000 injured, including wives and children...

  12. Traveler Diogenes, I agree. As I was writing the post, I thought of a person I know who may have to take a salary cut from $90K/yr to $60K/yr and is upset that he may have to move to a different house. To me that is inconvenience, not hardship.

  13. Not the discussion you were after, I'm sure, but I find your comments to be condescending and lacking your usual deft touch.

    You can always find an example of people somewhere at sometime who were worse off than those at some other given time. But that's just an old trick to try to get you to shut up and sit down. I'm glad the American colonists and the civil rights activists and the suffragists and lots of other troublemakers through history didn't fall for it.

    It's not a question of how hard up people are compared to some other time or place. It's a question of whether people are hard up enough to address an injustice and fight for redress. The American working class has been under siege for the last 30 years. We know we're better off than in the dustbowl, but we also know we're not getting a fair shake. So that decrease from $90K to $60K, besides being a pretty BIG inconvenience, is one more slice in the death by 1000 cuts that the middle class is experiencing.

    There is real pain out there and it won't be fixed by people just stiffening their upper lips and working harder. It's systemic and calls for change, so that people can get back to work and on with their lives.

  14. Greg, I'll concede your point. I actually wasn't intending to diss the OWS participants when I wrote this; I just wanted to highlight the photographer and her work. But my commentary was a bit off base.


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