Dorothea was born on May 26, 1895, in Hoboken, New Jersey, United States, to second-generation German immigrants Heinrich Nutzhorn and Johanna Lange. Dorothea Lange had a rough childhood. Contracting polio before the age of eight, she walked with a limp for most of her life. She had a younger brother, Martin. She dropped her middle name and assumed her mother's maiden name after her father abandoned the family when she was twelve years old, one of two traumatic events early in her life.