Dorothea Nutzhorn (Lange) was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, on 26th May, 1895. At the age of seven, Dorothea contracted polio which left her with a permanent limp. After her German born father abandoned the family, Dorothea assumed her mother's maiden name.
Lange studied at the New York Training School for Teachers but changed her mind and decided to become a photographer. She worked in a Arnold Genthe's studio before studying photography under Clarence White at Columbia University. In 1918 Lange moved to San Francisco and the following year established her own portrait studio in the city.
Lange's business was very successful until the Economic Depression that began after the Wall Street in 1929. followed. Shee now turned her attention to social realism and her photograph of a group of unemployed males, White Angel Breadline (1932), brought her to the attention of national critics and in 1934 Williard Van Dyke wrote an important article about her work in Camera Craft.
In 1935 Lange was invited by Roy Stryker to join the the federally sponsoredFarm Security Administration. This small group of photographers, including Esther Bubley, Marjory Collins, Mary Post Wolcott, Arthur Rothstein, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, Jack Delano, Charlotte Brooks, John Vachon, Carl Mydans, and Ben Shahn, were employed to publicize the conditions of the rural poor in America. Over the next few years Lange produced several notable photographs such as Migrant Mother (1936).
During this period Lange met Paul S. Taylor, a sociologist at the University of California. Taylor invited her to accompany him on his studies of migratory workers. Their book, An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion, appeared in 1939.
In 1942 Lange was hired by the War Relocation Authority to document the internment of Japenese-Americans during the Second World War. She was also employed by the Office of War Information (1943-45). Lange also covered the United Nations Conference in San Francisco for the State Department.
After the war Lange did several assignments for Life Magazine including Three Mormon Towns (1954) with Ansel Adams and Death of a Valley (1960). She also made photographic tours of Asia, South America and the Middle East. Dorothea Lange died of cancer on 11th October, 1965, just before the opening of her major retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.