Life Story: Dorothea Lange (1895–1965)

Photographer and Documentarian of American Life

The story of a documentary photographer who captured the lives of citizens from the New Deal through World War II.

Dorothea Lange, Resettlement Administration photographer, in California

Dorothea Lange, Resettlement Administration photographer, in California, Feb. 1936, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Suggested Activities

  • View some of Dorothea’s images of sharecroppers. Ask students to analyze them. How do they represent Dorothea’s commitment to democratic documentary photography?
  • Expand on the study of Dorothea’s work. Complete the same activity as above, but with her most famous photograph, Migrant Mother. She took this while working with Paul Taylor in 1936. Ask students why they think this is her most famous work. How does it represent her style? What is particularly powerful about this iconic image? What does it tell viewers about the Great Depression?
  • Dorothea was not the only artist of the Great Depression to advocate for democracy through her work. Compare her life story with the work of Harlem Renaissance sculptor Augusta Savage. How did each woman educate the public about life in America?
  • Dorothea was part of a vast network of women involved in New Deal policies and work. Compare her life story with those of Mary McLeod Bethune and Ellen Woodward.
  • Study the work of the Farm Security Administration by pairing this life story with FSA photographs of sharecroppers in Missouri.
  • Both Dorothea Lange and Gertrude Ederle had disabilities caused by childhood illnesses. Compare their life stories and consider how people overcome disabilities to achieve great success.