Spotlight: Dorothea Lange

If you are not familiar with the name Dorothea Lange, at the very least you may recognize Lange’s iconic photograph “Migrant Mother.”

dorothea lange
Caption: “Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California.” Photographer: Dorothea Lange. Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives.

Throughout the 1920s, Dorothea Lange worked as a studio portrait photographer in San Francisco. However, by the height of the Great Depression, she turned her focus towards documenting people and her surroundings. As a documentary photographer, Lange “produced some of the most powerful and influential social-documentary photographs of the modern era.”[efn_note] Brian Wallis. Dorothea Lange and the Afterlife of Photographs.[/efn_note] Between 1935 and 1945, Lange worked for several federal agencies, most notably the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the War Relocation Authority (WRA). After WWII, she pursued freelance photography and worked for Life as a staff photographer.

Original Caption: “Sacramento, California. Close-up view of squatter camp. This family lives in the car without a tent.” Photographer: Dorothea Lange. Date: March 15, 1940. Local ID: 83-G-41504 (NAID 521748)

Lange’s famous “Migrant Mother” photo was taken while on assignment with the Farm Security Administration (previously known as the Resettlement Agency). The FSA photographs are located at the Library of Congress. However, among the holdings of the NARA Still Picture Branch, there are two main series where her photographs can be found: 83-G: Photographic Prints Documenting Programs and Activities of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics and Predecessor Agencies (ca. 1922 – ca. 1947); and 210-G: Central Photographic File of the War Relocation Authority (1942 – 1945). 83-G has been fully digitized and made available in the NARA catalog. 210-G has been partially digitized.

Original Caption: “Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. A young evacuee of Japanese ancestry at this War Relocation Authority center.” Photographer: Dorothea Lange. Date: July 2, 1942. Local ID: 210-G-C719 (NAID 538013)

Record Group 83, Series G

83-G includes photographs taken by Dorothea Lange (as well as Irving Rusinow), and document pre-World War II rural life and social institutions in Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania. While the NARA catalog includes GIF versions of 83-G, JPG and TIF copies can be downloaded from WikiCommons. We suggest that researchers use the National Archives Identifier (as opposed to the local ID number) when searching WikiCommons. The JPG and TIF versions are usually the third or fourth search result.

All of Lange’s photographs filed within 83-G can be viewed in the NARA catalog here.

Record Group 210, Series G

The War Relocation Authority hired Lange, and other photographers, to document Japanese neighborhoods, evacuation processing centers, and internment camp facilities. The photographs in 210-G show Japanese-Americans at home prior to evacuation; evacuees at assembly centers; internee activities at each of the ten relocation centers; Nisei servicemen and women at awards ceremonies or on leave; and property formerly owned by Japanese-Americans, but vandalized, deserted, or taken over by Chinese-Americans.

Researchers can view and download many of Lange’s images filed within 210-G from the NARA catalog here. Please note that most of the 210-G scans in the catalog are available as TIFs. That said, JPG versions may also be found via WikiCommons.

Additional Information

For more information about the FSA-OWI collection at the Library of Congress, please visit their website here. Additional information about the role of the FSA photography unit can be found here.

It should also be noted that there are copies of Dorothea Lange photographs filed among records of related federal agencies. To see all items in the NARA catalog attributed to Dorothea Lange, please visit this pageResearchers may also send questions to

Publication Notice and Citations

Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother photo, as well as all of the photographs within 83-G and 210-G, are unrestricted and may be used freely. Please review our publication statement below.


Generally, copies of photographic records held by the National Archives may be published without special permission or additional fees. The National Archives does not grant exclusive or non-exclusive publication privileges. Copies of Federal records, as part of the public domain, are equally available to all. A small percentage of photographs in our holdings are or may be subject to copyright restrictions. The National Archives does not confirm the copyright status of photographs but will provide any information known about said status. It is the user’s responsibility to obtain all necessary clearances. Any use of these items is made at the researcher’s or purchaser’s own risk.

Proper credit lines are encouraged in the interest of good documentation. They also help inform the public about government photographic resources that are available.

*Because so many of our requests for information cite credits and captions that appear in published works, the inclusion of a photo number in hard copy and electronic publications is of great assistance to both us and the public.

Examples of preferred credit lines are as follows:

  • National Archives photo no. 210-G-C241
  • Credit National Archives (photo no. 83-G-41368)
  • Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 83-G-41430
  • National Archives (210-G-A14)

If using a large number of our images, the National Archives will appreciate receiving copies of publications that contain our photographs. Such copies can be sent to the Still Picture Branch or the Library, National Archives and Records Administration.

Works Cited