Photos by Dorothea Lange via Shorpy.
The Whitfield family's kitchen, North Carolina, 1939. Mr. Whitfield was a sharecropper.
When I saw this kitchen on Shorpy, I was impressed with how clean and neat it was. I did a survey of kitchens in photographs on Shorpy, and although this was among the poorer kitchens, it was also probably the cleanest, including among tenement kitchens photographed. I do not believe that Ms. Lange photographed by appointment but photographed what she found. There is not much in this kitchen. A table, an oil cloth, a wood stove, a butter churner, a basin, a few pots, rags. But what is there is clearly where it is supposed to be, and everything, including the floor, looks like it is regularly wiped down. In fact, there is Mrs. Whitfield doing some wiping right there.
So, compared with many of the other kitchens you can view on Shorpy, many of which belong to poor people, this kitchen stood out. I think, "There but for the grace of God, go I," and ask myself, if I were the wife of a poor sharecropper with multiple children, how clean would my kitchen be? Would I be able to keep my house neat and clean? Would I be able to resist the temptation of despair? Would I be able to keep my life on the straight and narrow? These are questions I cannot answer for myself. But Mrs. Whitfield has answered those questions on the side of hope and courage.
Mrs. Whitfield tends to her youngest.