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[Frances Benjamin Johnston with camera on balcony of Treasury Building, Washington, D.C., 1888]

Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection

Photographs and papers of Frances Benjamin Johnston

Prints and Photographs Division

Manuscript Division

Collection digitized? Yes, portions of the photographs are available in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

The Library of Congress is the principal repository of the writings and photographs of Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952), 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-1880's and opened a professional studio circa 1890. Her family's social position gave Miss Johnston access to the First Family and leading Washington political figures and launched her career as a photojournalist and portrait photographer. One of her scoops as a correspondent for the Bain News Service was to board Admiral Dewey's flagship with a letter of introduction from Theodore Roosevelt and interview the "Hero of Manila Bay" en route from the Philippines.

Johnston turned to garden and estate photography in 1910s [view overview: "Lantern Slides for Garden & Historic House Lectures"] . She was one of the first contributors to the Library's Pictorial Archives of Early American Architecture and executed a systematic survey of southern architecture with the support of the Carnegie Corporation [explore the Carnegie Survey collection | view a presentation highlighting the scope and geography of the Carnegie Survey project: "Surveying the South"].

For more about Johnston's background, view a biographical overview and chronology.

Prints and Photographs Division Holdings

Through copyright deposits, the 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 collection includes about 20,000 photographic prints and 3,700 glass and film negatives. Images in the collection span the period, 1864-1940, 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.

Photographic prints have been grouped by subject matter, and these groups are listed in both the Divisional card catalog and the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Some individual images for which copy photography has been requested can also be found in the online catalog. Related material includes photographs Johnston made for the Carnegie Survey of Architecture of the South (available through the online catalog) and photographs she made for the Pictorial Archives of Early American Architecture (listed in card index in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room). [View a selected bibliography and related resources.]

Manuscript Division Holdings

Johnston's personal papers in the Manuscript Division span the years 1885 to 1953 and consist 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. The division has prepared a finding aid for the 19,000-item collection. The papers have been microfilmed.

Note: Information for this entry was compiled in the late 1970's for inclusion in: Special Collections in the Library of Congress: A Selective Guide. Compiled by Annette Melville. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1980. The entry was revised in 1998 and 2018.

Pete Daniel and Raymond Smock. A Talent for Detail: The Photographs of Miss Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1889-1910 (New York: Harmony Books, [1974] 182 p. TR140.-J64A34 1974). (Illustrated with photographs from the collection.)

U.S. Library of Congress. Reference Department. Guide to the Special Collections of Prints & Photographs in the Library of Congress, compiled by Paul Vanderbilt. Washington, 1955. 200 p. NE53.W3A52, no.390, 391.

The National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. 1959/61+ Washington, Library of Congress Z6620.U5N366-1426

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  March 25, 2022
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