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Francis Benjamin Johnston

Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) was one of the photographers who carried out photographic assignments for George Grantham Bain's news service. One of her scoops for Bain was to photograph and interview Admiral George Dewey, the “Hero of Manila Bay,” aboard his flagship as it rested in the harbor of Naples, Italy, in 1899, after Dewey's naval victory in the Philippines. Since women did not readily obtain invitations to board battleships, Johnston made use of her connections, tracking down Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt at his Oyster Bay home and obtaining from him a letter of reference that read, “My dear Admiral Dewey, Miss Johnston is a lady, and whom I personally know. I can vouch for, she does good work, and any promise she makes she will keep.”

In addition to running the active Washington, D.C., portrait studio she had launched in 1890, Johnston continued to pursue freelance photojournalism, publishing magazine articles illustrated with her own photographs on topics ranging from coal mining to new methods in education. Turning increasingly to garden and estate photography in the 1910s, Johnston also forged a name for herself in that photographic specialty. Long an advocate for photography as a profession for women, Johnston took on the assignment of representing the work of women photographers in the 1900 Paris Exposition. This advocacy, along with her mastery of a variety of subfields of the photographic profession, earned Johnston the status of a pioneer among women photographers.


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