THE RAIN FELL STEADILY THAT DREARY MARCH MORNING AS PHOTOGRAPHER Dorothea Lange drove north towards San Francisco on California's Highway 101. In a hurry to get home, she initially ignored the crudely lettered sign leading to the pea-pickers' camp, deciding only after she had driven past to return and investigate. It was a decision that would make her famous. For on that wet day in 1936 Dorothea Lange would take her most memorable photograph. She had stumbled upon a scene of appalling proportions. More than a thousand people -- men, women, and children -- huddled against the rain in ragged tents and makeshift lean-tos, starving. They had come to San Luis Obispo County to pick peas, but a late frost had delayed the harvest. So they camped and waited. First their money had run out, and then the food. Ignored by local relief authorities, with nowhere to turn, many were now desperate.
America learned about the pea-pickers' camp through Lange's photographs, especially the one she called "Migrant Mother." The full-faced portrait of a gaunt, sunburnt woman, an infant cradled in her lap and two other children clinging close, touched the heart of a nation. Her face lined with worry and despair, this migrant madonna helped to awaken Americans to the plight of these particular families and thousands of others facing similar difficulties in Depression-torn California. 1
The press called them Dust Bowl refugees, although actually they came