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California on the Breadlines

California on the Breadlines: Dorothea Lange, Paul Taylor, and the Making of a New Deal Narrative

Jan Goggans
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp3d8
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  • Book Info
    California on the Breadlines
    Book Description:

    California on the Breadlinesis the compelling account of how Dorothea Lange, the Great Depression's most famous photographer, and Paul Taylor, her labor economist husband, forged a relationship that was private-they both divorced spouses to be together-collaborative, and richly productive. Lange and Taylor poured their considerable energies into the decade-long project of documenting the plight of California's dispossessed, which in 1939 culminated in the publication of their landmark book,American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion. Jan Goggans blends biography, literature, and history to retrace the paths that brought Lange and Taylor together. She shows howAmerican Exodusset forth a new way of understanding those in crisis during the economic disaster in California and ultimately informed the way we think about the Great Depression itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94589-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. PROLOGUE: Uncommon Ground
    (pp. 1-5)

    On Christmas Day in 1958, photographer Dorothea Lange and her husband, University of California professor Paul Taylor, were in Afghanistan.¹ Lange’s journal holds the record of the trip, and it describes a brisk pace, one that seems to have worn at the photographer, who was by then sixty-three years old and who had struggled for years with a variety of health problems. She made no photographs in Moscow because the stay there was “a struggle. The cold was terrible. Snow. The fever. And the 2 days in bed, and the white lace curtains in the still warm room.” Always visual,...

  6. CHAPTER 1 From Belleau Wood to Berkeley
    (pp. 7-35)

    On June 24, 1919, at 4:30 p.m., the University of Wisconsin–Madison conducted a ceremony that set out to do double duty, both a formal tribute to “her Men of the Service and the Dedication of Lincoln Terrace.” Sunny skies gave way to a trace of precipitation, and it remained cloudy afterward, with a gentle wind blowing from the northwest. The university’s program began with the playing of “Semper Fidelis,” followed by assembly of the men of service, the bugle’s clear notes likely sustained solemnly by the breeze. A procession to “Stars and Stripes Forever” wound through the campus’s Column...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Magnet of the West
    (pp. 37-73)

    The geological formation of Sioux City, Iowa, noted Paul Taylor, is “wind-blown loess—a very fine yellow dust [that] was blown up from Kansas during geological time after recession of the iceage.”¹ The loess, which remained for much of Taylor’s early life covered by buffalo grass, seemed to him “a very beautiful formation . . . like the waves of the sea,” with a “gently rolling” surface so smooth that he “never saw a pebble” during his boyhood. But when the buffalo grass gave way to development, the fine-grained yellow loam that moves like dust began to fly. Taylor remembered...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Labor on the Land
    (pp. 75-107)

    Neither Taylor’s oral history nor his wife’s memoir makes much mention of the Crash as affecting their lives. Indeed, while Margot Taylor was born only a month after Black Thursday, Katharine’s memoir focuses on the Taylors’ move to a larger home and her efforts to make the open marriage work, both philosophically and practically. Yet when Taylor returned to teaching, the nation was undergoing large-scale, permanent changes. In the initial years following the Crash, President Hoover continued the optimistic front that he had adopted in his first few months as president, a time characterized by market instability. He encouraged Americans...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Far West Factories
    (pp. 109-151)

    Following the exhibit at Haviland Hall, Taylor and Lange’s work shifted in scope and content. In January, working together again, they left for the lowest reaches of San Luis Obispo County. On the second day, their notes and photographs produced the earliest narrative structure of the work they would create and ultimately perfect in a photograph of a cotton-rag tent next to a car: the tent a testament to the impermanence of life as a seasonal laborer, the car evidence of the relentless motion set in force by the one-in-twenty chance of getting to the few jobs available before others...

  10. CHAPTER 5 A New Social Order
    (pp. 153-181)

    In mid-March 1935, when Taylor’s crew was visiting some fruit pickers in the Sacramento Valley, Taylor recalls, “On that trip, I was there, and both Maynard Dixon and Dorothea were there; that was before Dorothea’s and my marriage.”¹ Whatever feeling Taylor had about Lange he kept under wraps, even many years later. After the long trip in March, he and Lange worked at least once more together, in the town of Winters, late in May. Then, in June, Taylor, his students, and Lange set out for a long trip once again. Their field notes begin at Sacramento, on June 10,...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Women on the Breadlines
    (pp. 183-229)

    When Lange first stepped out of her studio, she took her camera onto a street that was predominantly male. Breadlines and social agencies, while staffing women, employed more men and served more men, making women a minority in the visual landscape.¹ As a woman on the street, Lange was forced to work within a context historically shaped by social stereotypes, none of which looked favorably at women on the street. Despite the constructs she faced, some of her first photographs articulated the Great Depression through a distinctively female vernacular, protesting conditions through feminine signifiers rather than strike signs. Recognizing early...

  12. CHAPTER 7 An American Exodus
    (pp. 231-259)

    In 1939, a couple at philosophical odds, their eleven children literally spilling out of a ragged tent, seemed to encompass all Lange was seeing in terms of the broken dream the West offered, particularly for women who had been unable to construct a new domestic identity. The highly gendered experiences of the Dust Bowl refugees created tensions between husbands and wives who could seem unable to understand each other, tensions Steinbeck attempted to dramatize inThe Grapes of Wrath.

    Late in novel, after complaining that the “man ain’t got no say no more,”¹ Pa lapses into a nostalgic wish for...

  13. CONCLUSION: Can the Subaltern Speak?
    (pp. 261-268)

    Eighty years before the second great western exodus, and a continent away, Marx wrote of a similar group of agricultural workers: “In so far as millions of families live under economic conditions that separate their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those of the other classes, and that place them in an attitude hostile toward the latter, they constitute a class.”¹ Marx’s description of the French agricultural peasantry—“the allotted patch of land, the farmer and his family; alongside that of another allotted patch of land, another farmer and another family”—could have served as a caption...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 269-320)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 321-345)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 346-346)