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Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn was born in Hoboken, New Jersey to second-generation German immigrant parents Henry Martin and Joanna Lange Nutzborn on May 26, 1895. Her father was an attorney and her mother was a singer who sang for recitals and community events. When she was 7, young Dorothea contracted polio, which left her with a lifelong limp. She would later say of the experience, "It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me. I've never gotten over it, and I am aware of the force and power of it." She would experience another life-altering change at age 12, when her father suddenly abandoned the family. Never missing a beat, her mother relocated to New York's Lower East Side, took a job in a library, and changed her and her children's names back to her maiden name of Lange. Dorothea found the streets of New York City more fascinating than school, and was frequently truant so she could peruse its many museums and art galleries. After graduating from Wadleigh High School in 1913, she entered a teacher training academy to appease her mother, but decided to shift her career focus to photography and studied under Photo-Secessionist Clarence White.

For the next few years, Ms. Lange took photography classes at Columbia University, and served several apprenticeships, including one at celebrated portrait photographer Arnold Genthe's Fifth Avenue studio. By the age of 20, she was enjoying moderate success in her own right, and opened a portrait studio in San Francisco. In 1920, she married painter Maynard Dixon, with whom she had two sons - Daniel Rhoades, born in 1925, and John Eaglesfeather, born five years' later. The Great Depression affected every American living at the time in varying degrees, and Dorothea Lange was no exception. When she began noticing the growing number of unemployed homeless men aimlessly walking the San Francisco streets, she began photographing them, which won her a job with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Resettlement Administration (later known as the Farm Security Administration or FSA). The press soon dubbed her as the 'first' documentary photographer, a title Ms. Lange dismissed as "nonsense." Her most famous photograph are the moving images collectively entitled "Migrant Mother." For her efforts, she she received both critical praise and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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