Dust Bowl Refugees / Lange
Dust Bowl Refugees Arrive in California
Dorothea Lange
American, 1936
Gelatin silver print (Resettlement Administration), with applied pigment and crayon printer's marks
8 1/16 x 10 in.
Questions for Teaching

• What can you say about the people in this picture?

• How can you tell that the people in this picture are moving rather than just taking a trip somewhere?

• Can you identify any of the things tied to the car?

• What kind of trip do you think this group has just had? Describe how one day of their journey might have gone.

• Pick one person in the photograph and try to imagine what, if anything, he or she most regretted leaving behind in order to move to California.

• Pick one person in the photograph and try to imagine what he or she was thinking at the moment that Lange took the picture.

• What do you think these people might have done after they arrived in California?

• Block out the parts of the photograph as indicated by the crop lines. Does it look any different to you? Does it change the mood or message of the picture?

• Do you think this is a good picture to illustrate the story of people fleeing the Dust Bowl? What other scenes might a newspaper have used to show the situation of Dust Bowl refugees?

• Why do you think that this image did not spark the same concern and outrage that Migrant Mother did among viewers?

Background Information

This photograph was published in the New York Times on July 5, 1936, with the caption "'A Family Unit in The Flight From Drought'/Dust Bowl Refugees Reach a 'Promised Land'—California." The orange crop marks and notes are directions to the printer that were made by New York Times staff. They indicate that the already tightly composed image should be printed as an even more tightly framed picture, focusing closely on the jalopy crammed with people and their worn belongings, including quilts, pans, a stove, a bag of rice, and luggage. (Note that while people nowadays are accustomed to viewing Lange's work as "fine art," the newspaper staff felt free to crop Lange's image because it had been provided to them as a document, not a work of art.) The travelers were among the thousands from the heartland of America who had seen their prospects as farmers blow away in the dust storms of the 1930s. One man from Oklahoma recalled his early childhood in the Dust Bowl: "For a three-year-old kid, you just go outside and play, dust blows and sand blows, and you don't know any different. One evening a black duster come in here from the north. We had kerosene lamps. And it got so dark you couldn't see with kerosene lamps." No longer able to sustain their farms, and lured by advertisements and rumors that promised a sunny agricultural paradise with jobs for all who were willing to work, families journeyed to California with as many of their possessions as they could pack inside or tie onto their car.