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Photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston (January 15, 1864-March 16, 1952) was born in Grafton but spent much of her youth in Rochester, New York, and in Washington. She began studying art at Notre Dame Convent in Govanston, Maryland, as an adolescent. From 1883 to 1885, she studied at the Académie Julian in Paris. She later continued her education at the Art Students League in New York.

Johnston began her professional life as an artist-reporter. Sensing a changing trend in journalistic illustration while working as the Washington correspondent for a New York newspaper, she turned to photography, studying under Thomas William Smillie, then head of the Division of Photography at the Smithsonian Institution. She soon achieved national renown as the first female press photographer. She went on to enjoy a long and remarkable career as one of the leading documentary, portrait, and artistic photographers in the District of Columbia and the nation. She received employment from the Benjamin Harrison and William Taft presidential administrations.

Among Johnston’s most significant achievements was a photographic survey of early American architecture of the South, conducted from 1933 to 1941 with the support of the Carnegie Corporation. Her work is represented in many museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Library of Congress. Johnston died in Washington.

This Article was written by John A. Cuthbert

Last Revised on December 07, 2015


Daniel, Pete & Ray Smock. A Talent for Detail: The Photographs of Miss Frances Benjamin Johnston. New York: Harmony Books, 1974.

Cite This Article

Cuthbert, John A. "Frances Benjamin Johnston." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 07 December 2015. Web. 26 September 2021.


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