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Prints and Photographs Division



Graphic Journalism and Illustration
Photojournalism Collections
George Grantham Bain
arrow graphicFrances Benjamin Johnston
National Photo Company
Toni Frissell
New York World-Telegram and Sun
Look Magazine
U. S. News & World Report
Documentary Surveys
Advertising and Propaganda
Pictures: Business and Art
Design Collections
Organizations' Records
Personal Papers



Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection

Johnston's Career

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Full-length self-portrait dressed as a man with false moustache, posed with bicycle, facing left. Francis Benjamin Johnston. Between 1880 and 1900. Prints and Photographs Division.
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Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) was one of the photographers who carried out photographic assignments for George Grantham Bain's news service. One of her scoops for Bain was to photograph and interview Admiral George Dewey, the “Hero of Manila Bay,” aboard his flagship as it rested in the harbor of Naples, Italy, in 1899, after Dewey's naval victory in the Philippines. Since women did not readily obtain invitations to board battleships, Johnston made use of her connections, tracking down Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt at his Oyster Bay home and obtaining from him a letter of reference that read, “My dear Admiral Dewey, Miss Johnston is a lady, and whom I personally know. I can vouch for, she does good work, and any promise she makes she will keep.” 2

In addition to running the active Washington, D.C., portrait studio she had launched in 1890, Johnston continued to pursue freelance photojournalism, publishing magazine articles illustrated with her own photographs on topics ranging from coal mining to new methods in education. Turning increasingly to garden and estate photography in the 1910s, Johnston also forged a name for herself in that photographic specialty. Long an advocate for photography as a profession for women, Johnston took on the assignment of representing the work of women photographers in the 1900 Paris Exposition. This advocacy, along with her mastery of a variety of subfields of the photographic profession, earned Johnston the status of a pioneer among women photographers.

Scope of the Collection

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Women working in Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C. Francis Benjamin Johnston. ca. 1889. Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection. Prints and Photographs Division.

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The results of Johnston's early forays into photojournalism, along with photographs from other stages of her varied career, family photographs and keepsakes, and images by other women photographers, make up the Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection (25,000 items, ca. 1864-1947, bulk 1897-1927). Women appear in Johnston's photojournalistic coverage of various industries, including

Johnston's portrait work demonstrates her ability to capitalize on her connections to Washington's politically powerful and socially elite, capturing the faces and activities of Washington, D.C., and New York society women (see especially LOT 11735 [catalog record]).

Associated material held in the Manuscript Division offers further insight into Johnston's life and working methods (see Artists, Architects, and Designers in the Manuscript Division section).

For rights information pertaining to the Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection, see:

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Group of young women reading in library of normal school, Washington, D.C. Francis Benjamin Johnston. 1899. Prints and Photographs Division.

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Searching the Collection

Most of the images for which copy negatives or transparencies exist can be searched in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. The collection has its own listing in the online catalog. Digitized images generally accompany the records.

To look for images for which no online record exists, onsite researchers can:

  • consult the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog in the category Groups in High Demand (Miscellaneous) or the Divisional Catalog under Johnston's name for descriptions of images grouped by subject into LOTs; submit a call slip to have desired LOTs retrieved (note: Some LOTs have associated unpublished finding aids that list subjects covered in the LOT in greater detail than the catalog record)
  • consult the Biographical Index, where portraits in LOT 11735 are listed by the individual's name

Go to the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC)

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