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Story Behind the Picture: The Migrant Mother

This is a picture of a mother and her children during the Great Depression. According to the photographer, the desperate woman lived on a farm where all crops had frozen over and there was no work for the homeless cultivators. He was told that the mother sold the tires from her car to buy food. This food was eaten alongside birds that has been caught by her children.The woman’s face clearly depicts a great despair and misery as she looks into the distance vacantly, searching for hope.

The Migrant Mother became the most famous picture taken during the Great Depression. It raised awareness about the hunger and awful conditions in the encampments (in this case in Nipomo, California) often called ‘Hoovervilles’ after the president of the time, Herbet Hoover, where the authorities had to provide over 20,000 pounds of food for people living there. This image became a symbol of the need and suffering of people during this time.

A long time passed before Migrant Mother’s identity was revealed. In 1978, a reporter found her by tracking her down to Modesto, California. Her name was Florence Owen Thompson, aged 75. In 1983, Thompson unfortunately had a stroke. Her family did not have enough money to pay for treatment, so her children used her identity as the ‘Migrant Mother' to raise $15,000 in donations. Sadly, Thompson died soon after the stroke, but this photograph has been forever embedded into American history as a symbol of the poverty during the Great Depression.

Maria L, Year 9

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