Helen Johns Kirtland (1890-1979)
Introduction | Resources | Image sampler | Biographical
Essay [PDF document / 288 KB /
Johns Kirtland in trench
during World War I; she
is wearing a helmet and
great coat, and has a
gas mask hanging around
her neck. Between 1914
Helen Johns Kirtland was an early woman war photojournalist active at the end of World War I. She was the “the first and only woman correspondent allowed at the front after Caporetto, the 1917 Italian retreat in which 275,000 troops were captured.”
As a photojournalist, Kirtland worked for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly in Europe and was also associated with the YMCA, which provided physical fitness and swimming classes to the soldiers. Like many of her male colleagues, she covered a variety of subjects that required facing danger and capturing images that could be readily published to convey the war visually.
In 1981, the Library of Congress received a gift from Mark and Birk Hinderaker of some four thousand photos taken by Helen and her husband Lucian Swift Kirtland. The Kirtland Collection at the Library of Congress includes about two hundred images of World War I and its aftermath. The earliest images are family portraits, and the bulk of the collection represents their post war travels in Europe and Asia. Although relatively little documentation has been found to date, Helen’s life and career merit further study.