“Ex-tenant farmer on relief grant in the Imperial Valley, California.” Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
23 Photographs from the Dust Bowl
More than 5,000 people died from the heatwave of 1936. It was the hottest summer on record. Those crops that hadn’t withered in the first half of the decade now failed. People collapsed from exhaustion in their homes. The summer of 1936 marked the most desperate point of a four year drought and a decade long economic depression that displaced 2.5 million people. This time came to be known as the Dust Bowl.
Unseasonable heavy rain in the years preceding 1930 convinced farmers that aggressive ploughing was acceptable, when in reality a very thin topsoil was only protected by a thin layer of grass. When precipitation did not materialize, the exposed soil quickly dried. High winds, which were not uncommon, were now able to pick up millions of pounds of dried soil and blow it in huge rolling black clouds. Towns were abandoned. The largest exodus of Americans occurred in the 1930’s as a result of this agricultural disaster. Poor and hungry, whole families traveled west for work.
The high-resolution photographs of migrant workers in this series show the men, women and children who lived during this troubled time. Among others, Dororthea Lange was hired by the Farm Security Administration to document the Dust Bowl. During this time, she created some of her most iconic images.
Out of a collection of thousands of photographs from the Library of Congress, the following portraits have been chosen for their emotion and technical quality.
Curated historic photography on Photistoric.
1940. “Group of Florida migrants on their way to Cranberry, New Jersey, to pick potatoes. Near Shawboro, North Carolina.” Photograph by Jack Delano.
1939. “Nebraska farmer come to pick peas. Near Calipatria, California.” Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
1936. “Drought refguees from Oklahoma camping by the roadside. They hope to work in the cotton fields. The official at the border (California-Arizona) inspection service said that on this day, August 17, 1936, twenty-three car loads and truck loads of migrant families out of the drought counties of Oklahoma and Arkansas had passed throught that station entering California up to 3 o’clock in the afternoon.” Photo by Dorothea Lange.
1936. “Occupants–one more home on wheels. California.” Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
1939. “Arkansas girl in migrant camp near Greenfield, Salinas Valley, California. This is an Arkansawyers auto camp, filled almost completely with Arkansawyers recently in California. Rent ten dollars per month for one room, iron bed, electric light.” Photograph by Dorthea Lange.
1939. “Grandmother of twenty-two children living in Kern County migrant camp. California.” Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
1936. “Drought refugee from Polk, Missouri. Awaiting the opening of orange picking season at Porterville, California.” Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
1937. “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. Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
1938. “Wife of a migratory laborer with three children. Near Childress, Texas. Nettie Featherston.” Photograph by Dororthea Lange.
1939. “In a carrot pullers’ camp near Holtville, Imperial Valley, California. Woman from Broken Row, Oklahoma.” Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
1939. “A migrant laborer waiting for work in one of the packing houses near Canal Point, Florida.” Photograph by Marion Post Wolcott.
1940. “Migrant child, Berrien County, Michigan.” Photograph by John Vachon.
1937. “Part of the family of a migrant fruit worker from Tennessee, camped near the packinghouse in Winter Haven, Florida.” Photograph by Arthur Rothstein.
1938. “Migrant worker resting along roadside, Hancock County, Mississippi.” Photograph by Russell Lee.
1939. “Child of migrant worker sitting on bed in tent home of cotton picking sacks, Harlingen, Texas.” Photograph by Russell Lee.
Daughter of migrant in doorway of trailer, Sebastin, Texas.” Photograph by Russell Lee.
1937. “A migrant worker from Oklahoma. Deerfield, Florida.” Photograph by Arthur Rothstein.
1936. “This man is a labor contractor in the pea fields of California. ‘One-Eye’ Charlie gives his views. ‘I’m making my living off of these people (migrant laborers) so I know the conditions.’ San Luis Obispo County, California.” Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
1936. “Migrant agricultural worker’s family. Seven hungry children. Mother aged thirty-two. Father is native Californian. Nipomo, California.” Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
“Migrant shed worker. Northeast Florida.” Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
1936. “Migrant shed worker. Northeast Florida.” Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
1936. “Eighty year old woman living in squatters’ camp on the outskirts of Bakersfield, California. ‘If you lose your pluck you lose the most there is in you – all you’ve got to live with.'” Photograph by Dorothea Lange.