The Groundbreakers  | American Journalism Review
From AJR,   January/February 1998

The Groundbreakers   

Brief bios of pioneering women of photojournalism

By Sherry Ricchiardi
Sherry Ricchiardi ( is an AJR senior contributing writer.     

Related reading:
   » Getting The Picture
   » A Photographer Who Makes a Difference

When Naomi Rosenblum began compiling material for a photographic history book in the 1980s, she noticed an obvious omission: women. She discovered that female photographers were slighted or not even mentioned in much of the historical and critical literature. So she produced "A History of Women Photographers," an overview of the contributions of women in the field.
Among those Rosenblum considered groundbreakers:

Jessie Tarbox Beals (1870-1942) often is credited with being one of America's first women press photographers. In 1902, she was hired by the Buffalo Inquirer and the Buffalo Courier. Beals' photos of architecture and portraits also were published in the New York Herald, Ha,per's Bazaar, Town and Country and Vogue.

Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) photographed the famous and powerful in Washington, D.C., gaining access to the White House under five administrations. She became one of the first women to document the workplace in America, from pitch-black coal mines to cigar box and shoe factories.

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) is best known for her work on socially concerned projects during the Great Depression for the Farm Security Administration. Her photo titled "White Angel Bread Line" became a symbol of the Depression. Lange started by opening her own photo studio. In the 1950s, she moved to Life magazine, where she documented the internment of Japanese Americans and became best known for showing people in relationship to each other and their environments. In 1941, she was the first woman to win a Guggenheim grant.

Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) The most widely renowned woman journalist of her era, Bourke-White started in 1927 as a freelance industrial and architectural photographer. She joined Fortune's staff in 1929, then became one of Life magazine's four original staff photographers in 1936. At Life, in 1942, she became the first woman to fly on a bombing mission from North Africa. Later, she was the first woman official photographer for the U.S. Army Corps.

Dickey Chapelle (1919-1965) was a daredevil who parachuted into Vietnamese jungles held by the Vietcong. In 1965, at the age of 46, she became the first woman combat correspondent to be killed in action in Vietnam when she stepped on a landmine while covering a U.S. Marine operation.

Susan Meiselas (1948-) has built a career on covering conflicts. In 1977 she became a member of Magnum Photos. She has been published in Time, Geo, Life, the New York Times, the London Sunday Times and Mother Jones. Meiselas covered Chad and Cuba before taking photos in Nicaragua that won her the Robert Capa Gold Medal in 1978 from the Overseas Press Club.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940-), a premier documentary photographer from Philadelphia, gained notoriety for in-depth essays that have appeared in major magazines, including Life, Time, Newsweek, Esquire and Ms. She also is known for her exquisite portraits and a fascination for society's outcasts, or the "infamous," as she calls them. In 1983 she won the "Canon Photo Essayist Award" for a Life magazine story on Seattle street kids. In 1988, she received the World Press Award for outstanding life's work.

Donna Ferrato (1949-) is best known for her ongoing work on domestic violence. She once spent Christmas Day in a Missouri prison to photograph women who were serving 50 years to life without parole for killing their abusive partners. Ferrato won the Robert F. Kennedy Humanistic Award for a series on domestic violence published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In 1993 she won the Crystal Eagle award for courage from the International Women's Media Foundation.



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