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The Brief American Pageant , Sixth Edition
David M. Kennedy, Stanford University
Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University
Thomas A. Bailey
Mel Piehl, Valparaiso University
Primary Sources

Introduction | Questions to Consider | Source

BrokeóBaby SickóCar Trouble
Dorothea Lange

Instructors' Note
Students should quickly sense that the family in the photograph is facing a desperate situation. The father has gone to find help and the mother has been left alone with a small child and baby. Have students brainstorm about what fate the family is facing. This is a good opportunity to discuss why photographs can be useful as a part of the historical record.

You might want to enhance this discussion by talking about the New Deal agencies that tried to offer help to those devastated by the Great Depression. Have students analyze the success of these programs, and then point out that it took fighting a world war to finally restore the nation's economy.

This is one of many Dorothea Lange photographs that documented American life in the twentieth century. The federal government incorporated a photographic division into the New Deal's Resettlement Administration in 1935. The Farm Security Administration later took over these duties in its Historical Section. Remind students that photographs were the best visual evidence available because television had not yet been developed.

A copy of this photograph can be found in Eyes of the Nation: A Visual History of the United States, by Vincent Virga and the Curators of the Library of Congress (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997). This is an excellent starting point for utilizing resources from the Library of Congress.

Through her work for the federal government, photographer Dorothea Lange helped create a visual record of the effects of the Great Depression on the American people. Think about what people faced in 1937 to help understand the message of this picture.

Questions to Consider
  1. After reading your text, describe what was happening in the U.S. economy in 1937.

  2. What are the people in the picture doing?

  3. What do the items loaded on the back of the truck represent? Why did this family take so many things with them?

  4. Where do you think the father of this family went?

  5. What do you think might have happened to this family?

  6. Explain why this photograph is a useful piece of evidence in understanding the Great Depression.


A family moving west