The story of the iconic Migrant Mother photograph, 1936

This photo was taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936, while employed by the US government's Farm Security Administration (FSA) program, which was formed to raise awareness of and support poor farmers during the Great Depression.

In Nipomo, California, Lang came with Florence Owens Thompson and her children to a camp full of farm workers whose livelihoods had been devastated by the failure of pea crops.

Recalling her meeting with Thompson years later, she said: "I saw a hungry and desperate mother and approached her, as if drawn in by a magnet. I can't remember whether I saw her by my presence or my camera. How about explained, but I remember he didn't ask me any questions. I did five exposures working closer and closer from the same direction."

While Thompson's identity was not known until 40 years after the photographs were taken, the images became famous. The sixth image, in particular, which later became known as the migrant mother, "has moved closer to symbolic status, while not defining an entire era in the history of the United States."

Roy Stryker called the migrant mom the "ultimate" picture of the Depression era: "[Lange] never surpassed it. To me, this picture was ... others were wonderful, but he was special ... he is immortal".

As a whole, photographs taken for the Rehabilitation Administration have been "widely declared as the epitome of documentary photography". Edward Steichen described them as "the most remarkable human document ever presented in pictures".

Thompson's identity was discovered in the late 1970s. Thompson shared it and shared that she viewed the photo with mixed feelings: On the one hand, she was glad it brought attention and support to the field, but on the other, she never profited from the photo. For him, it was a reminder of how bad things got and how he resolved to never be that poor again.

The only benefit he received from the photo was at the end of Florence's life. In 1983, she was diagnosed with cancer and most recently a stroke, and the cost of her care was proving unsustainable for her family.

He made a public appeal, asking for money to help the "migrant mother" get back to health. Donations came in from across the country, with letters from people who drew strength and inspiration from the picture of Florence.

The appeal raised more than $35,000. Florence died of "cancer and heart problems" on September 16, 1983, in Scotts Valley, California. Her gravestone reads: "Florence Leona Thompson: Migrant Mother - A Legend of the Strength of American Motherhood".

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