About this Collection
Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) was one of the first American women to achieve prominence as a photographer. Trained at the Académie Julian in Paris, she studied photography upon her return to Washington, D.C., in the mid-1880s and opened a professional studio circa 1890. Her family's social position gave Johnston access to the First Family and leading Washington political figures and launched her career as a photojournalist and portrait photographer. Johnston turned to garden and estate photography in 1910s. [To learn more about Johnston, see the Biographical Overview and Chronology.]
Through copyright deposits, gifts of the photographer and the purchase of material from her estate, the Prints and Photographs Division has formed an extensive collection of Johnston's documentary assignments and architectural studies. The portion of the collection that is presented online in the Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection category are individual photographs for which copy negatives or digital files exist. This represents a small cross-section of the entire Johnston collection, which consists of an estimated 20,000 photographic prints and 3,700 glass and film negatives. (Most of the photographic prints have been grouped by subject matter into groups (LOTs). Catalog records describing those groups are available through the Groups of Images in High Demand category. [retrieve Frances Benjamin Johnston LOT records]).
Images in the collection span the period, 1850-1949, but the majority date between 1897 and 1927. Among the photographs from Johnston's early career are her coverage of American world's fairs; coal mining; the White House; openings of Congress; Admiral Dewey; and Progressive era educational efforts, including a survey of Washington, D.C., schools and such minority educational institutions as the Hampton Institute and the Tuskegee Institute. The collection also includes photographs collected by Johnston, including images of family and friends and works by other women photographers.
Johnston was one of the first contributors to the Library's Pictorial Archives of Early American Architecture. With the support of the Carnegie Corporation, she also executed a systematic survey of southern architecture known as the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South. These two collections are considered to be separate from the Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection, although the contents of the collections overlap to some degree. The Library's Manuscript Division holds Johnston's personal papers, spanning the years 1885 to 1953 and consisting primarily of correspondence. Also included are memoranda, articles, notes, the manuscript of her book Early Architecture of North Carolina (1941), and miscellaneous material relating to her photography of southern architecture.