Motherhood is stunningly beautiful.
Motherhood deeply bonds women to one another throughout place, and time. But in the daily grind of our busy lives, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one who has ever nursed a difficult baby (more on that below) or struggled to get it all done in one day. We searched for some of the earliest photography available depicting scenes from motherhood, and felt a deep connection to the strength and beauty of the mothers we found.
Mother and child in bathroom of new home in Greenbelt, Maryland. Marion Post Wolcott, photographer. Sept. 1938.
African American mother and her four children in their tenement apartment. Stanley Kubrick, photographer. 1949 Jan. 27.
Woman breastfeeds a baby and a bear cub at the same time. Circa 1903.
Mexican mother with three days old baby, born in this home in Crystal City, Texas. Russell Lee, photographer. March, 1939.
A group of proud mothers and their babies, who they entered in the Hoover Play Grounds Baby Show. August 30, 1920.
Mother holding a baby in Chinatown, San Francisco. Arnold Genthe, photographer. Photo taken between 1896 and 1930.
Mother and child in the sunlight. Edward Steichen, photographer. 1906.
Japanese mother and baby. Carleton Graves, photographer. Circa 1902.
Firefighter interviews a mother holding her son, who accidentally lit the curtains on fire with a fuel-oil lamp wick. Washington D.C. Firehouse Station No. 4. Gordon Parks, photographer. January 1943.
Twin sisters give birth hours apart at Columbia Maternity Hospital in Washington D.C.. Harris & Ewing, photographer. April 7, 1939.
The proprietor of a saloon-restaurant with her daughter in Gemmel, Minnesota. Russell Lee, photographer. August 1937.
This mother, Mrs. Dora Stainers, started working in an Atlanta mill when she was seven. Her little girl Lilie is the same age she was when she started work, but the mother said, “I ain’t goin to put her to work if I can help it. I’m goin’ to give her as much education as I can so she can do better than I did.” Photo taken by Lewis Wickes Hine, March 1915.
The daughter of a tobacco sharecropper comes inside to get a snack from her mother, who was doing housework. Dorothea Lange, July 1939.
Mona Grimm, two, and Carol Grimm, five, are put to bed by their foster mother, with whom they live during the week. Sundays Mona and Carol go home to their mother, a 26-year-old widow with six children under 12. Marjory Collins, photographer. May 1943.
Gertrude Kasebier O’Malley with her infant son, Charles O’Malley, posed in Oceanside, Long Island. Photographed by her mother, Gertrude Kasebier. 1900.
Japanese mother balances two toddlers in a yoke. Circa 1928.
A mother and child in Petra, Jordan. Photographed between 1940 and 1946.
A group of Missouri mothers whose sons were killed in France during World War I visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C. Harris & Ewing, photographers. Sept. 22, 1930.
A 32-year-old pea picker and mother of seven in Nipomo, California. Dorothea Lange, photographer. March 1936.
Roma mother and baby by a roadside near Orsova, Hungary. Circa 1913.
Eskimo mother and child. Lomen Brothers, photographers. Circa 1906.
An American mother bathes her child. Oct. 10, 1929.
Pueblo mother and three children. Circa 1902.
An American mother prepares a meal. Dec. 16, 1926.
A Mexican mother in California, who said, “Sometimes I tell my children that I would like to go to Mexico, but they tell me ‘We don’t want to go, we belong here.’” Dorothea Lange, photographer. June 1935.
Children have milk and cookies at a day nursery for preschool children of mothers engaged in war work. Washington D.C. Carlton Smith, photographer. May 1943.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, a mother nurses her infant. Ben Shahn, photographer. Oct. 1935.
A mother in Buffalo, NY, picks up her children from a nursery school, which cost $3 a week. Marjory Collins, photographer. May, 1943.
A mother and child at home in Washington D.C. Arthur Rothstein, photographer. Oct. 1937.
A mother carries her child in Nacogdoches County, Texas. John Vachon, photographer. April 1943.
At a public clinic in Questa, New Mexico, mothers wait with their children. John Collier, photographer. Jan. 1943.