This picture is in just about every American history book and has become an iconic image of the Great Depression. And while it reminds me of The Grapes of Wrath, it was intended to let Depression-era Americans understand they were not alone. Maybe now it can tell our 2008 recession woes that throwing a party with dollar-store finds is not the same thing?
Seventy-six-year-old Katherine McIntosh, the girl to our left in the photo, told CNN it brought shame and determination to her family. She now owns a home in central California and uses her obsession with cleanliness, a trait learned early on, to make a comfortable living cleaning homes. "I wanted to make sure," she said, "I never lived like that again."
Photographer Dorothea Lange took the photo late in the winter of 1936. She was on a photography assignment for the Resettlement Administration, a federal agency that relocated struggling families to government-planned communities. Katherine's mother, though embarrassed, agreed to have her photo taken on the condition of anonymity because it had the potential to help others. It ran in a local newspaper the next day, but the migrant family didn't see it, having already moved on.
After they inevitably learned of the photo, they worked their whole lives not to let it define them. Though "it was always talked about," Katherine said. To listen to her now,