New book revisits pair who documented Dust Bowl migrants

Modesto BeeAugust 24, 2010 

Dorothea Lange and husband Paul Taylor chronicled Dust Bowl migrants in California more the 70 years ago.

Lange did it in photographs — women keeping house in ragged tents, men at the wheel of cars packed with all they owned.

Taylor, a lesser-known labor economist, did it in writings and speeches that appealed to a nation's compassion amid the Depression.

Their work is the subject of a new book by Jan Goggans, an assistant professor of literature at the University of California at Merced.

The book, "California on the Breadlines: Dorothea Lange, Paul Taylor and the Making of a New Deal Narrative," describes the professional and romantic passions that drove these two people.

"She saw things as an artist, as a portrait photographer, and he saw things through labor economics and history," Goggans said in an interview last week. "When they combined these, it was riveting."

Lange is known best for "Migrant Mother," her photo of a beleaguered woman with three of her children in a Central Coast pea field in 1936. This woman, Florence Thompson, arrived in California before the Dust Bowl but nonetheless came to embody the farmworkers' plight. She later lived in Modesto.

During the 1930s, more than a quarter of a million people came to California from Oklahoma and nearby states wracked by drought and poverty. About 70,000 of them ended up in the San Joaquin Valley. Many of them faced continued hardship as they moved from farm to farm seeking work.

Read more of this story at ModBee.com

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