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Frances Benjamin Johnston Photograph Collection: Finding Aid
photCL 352  
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administration Information
  • Scope and Content
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms
  • Collection Indexes

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Frances Benjamin Johnston Photograph Collection
    Dates (inclusive): approximately 1890-1908
    Collection Number: photCL 352
    Creator: Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952
    Extent: 1276 single photographs in 12 boxes; approximately 1217 (8x10 in.) glass plate negatives in 59 boxes and 61 (11x14 and 14x17 in.) glass plate negatives in 6 boxes
    Repository: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo Archives
    1151 Oxford Road
    San Marino, California 91108
    Phone: (626) 405-2191
    Email: reference@huntington.org
    URL: http://www.huntington.org
    Abstract: This collection contains approximately 1,276 photographs and corresponding glass plate negatives by American photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston that focus on the portrait work of Johnston's earlier years in Washington, D.C., mainly in the 1890s. The focus is largely on D.C. socialites, diplomats, Presidents, senators, reformers, Supreme Court justices, artists, authors, Confederacy officers, etc. Also included are series of views of Washington's embassies (largely interior shots), legations, and famous residences Johnston photographed for Demorest's family magazine. The remainder of the collection includes, among other items, copies of Mathew Brady's daguerreotypes that belonged to the War Dept., treaties and other official documents from the State Dept. Archives, Lincoln ephemera intended to illustrate Ida Tarbell's Life of Lincoln, and views of the Bell telephone.
    Language: English.
    Finding aid last updated on January 28, 2014.

    Administration Information


    Open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information, contact Reader Services.

    Publication Rights

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

    Preferred Citation

    Frances Benjamin Johnston Photograph Collection, Huntington Library. Photo Archives.


    Purchased by Henry E. Huntington for the Huntington Library from Frances B. Johnston, 1924.

    Processing information

    This collection was processed by Jennifer A. Watts and the original paper finding aid was prepared in November 1994.

    Biographical Note

    Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) was an American photographer whose prodigious career spanned six decades and whose lens captured a vast array of topics. A woman of immense drive and energy, she is most commonly referred to as the first female photojournalist. However, she was also a charter member of the Photo-Secession, exhibiting her pictorialist work in a wide variety of salons and shows; she was a businesswoman who operated her own Washington, DC portrait studio and later, in New York City, a studio devoted to architectural photography; she was the recipient of awards and accolades and served as a mentor--particularly through her published essays and private correspondence--to countless women who aspired to her profession; and she was a peripatetic soul whose travels in the United States and abroad resulted in a tremendous body of work concentrating primarily on architecture and gardens (the fruit of her later years).

    Scope and Content

    This collection contains approximately 1,276 photographs and corresponding glass plate negatives by American photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston that focus on the portrait work of Johnston's earlier years in Washington, D.C., mainly in the 1890s.
    The photographs arrived at the Huntington in 1924 when, after persistent negotiations, she sold some 1200 glass plate negatives and her "catalogue set of blue prints" to Henry E. Huntington and his library for several thousand dollars. In her correspondence with the librarian, George Watson Cole, Johnston described the collection as "portraits of famous men and women and historic events...through the administrations of Benj. Harrison, Cleveland, McKinley, Roosevelt and Taft" which she deemed to possess "ultimate historic value and interest." Indeed, this collection of cyanotypes (with some gelatin and finished, platinum prints) focuses largely on the stream of socialites, diplomats, Presidents, senators, reformers, Supreme Court Justices, artists, authors and other important figures who flowed through Johnston's well-appointed studio at the turn-of-the-century. In addition there is an excellent series of views, largely interior shots, of Washington's embassies, legations and famous residences which Johnston photographed for a series of articles in Demorest's Family Magazine. The remainder of the collection is comprised of a sundry group of images including copies of Matthew Brady's daguerreotypes (most unidentified) belonging to the War Department, various treaties and official documents, a set of Abraham Lincoln ephemera intended to illustrate Ida Tarbell's Life of Lincoln and some views of the Bell Telephone.
    For more detailed information about the events surrounding Huntington's acquisition of the Johnston Collection, please refer to an article by Jennifer A. Wattsentitled "The Frances Benjamin Johnston Portrait Collection at the Huntington Library." History of Photography. Vol. 19, No. 3. August 1995,252-262.


    Organized in the following categories:
    • [1] Portraiture (1895-1905)
    • [2] Government commissions, events, and group portraits, Brady daguerreotypes, documents and treaties, miscellaneous views
    • [3] Legations and embassies (approximately 1890-1903)
    • [4] Residences and interiors (approximately 1889-1906)
    • [5] Portraiture-Large format
    • [6] Group portraits and government events-Large format

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the Huntington Library's Online Catalog.  


    Photographic prints.
    Gelatin silver prints.
    Platinum prints.


    Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865 -- Miscellanea.
    United States. Supreme Court -- Officials and employees -- Photographs.
    United States. Congress. Senate -- Officials and employees -- Photographs.
    Confederate States of America. Navy -- Officers -- Photographs.
    Confederate States of America. Army -- Officers -- Photographs.
    Socialites -- United States -- Photographs.
    Diplomats -- United States -- Photographs.
    Presidents -- United States -- Photographs.
    Legislators -- United States -- Photographs.
    Reformers -- United States -- Photographs.
    Judges -- United States -- Photographs.
    Artists -- United States -- Photographs.
    Authors, American -- Photographs.
    Diplomatic and consular service -- Washington (D.C.) -- Photographs.
    Celebrities -- Homes and haunts -- Washington (D.C.) -- Photographs.
    Telephone -- Photographs.
    Washington (D.C.) -- Biography -- Portraits.
    Washington (D.C.) -- Social life and customs -- 19th century -- Sources.
    Washington (D.C.) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century -- Sources.

    Additional Entries

    Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952, photographer.
    Brady, Mathew B., approximately 1823-1896, photographer.
    Tarbell, Ida M. (Ida Minerva), 1857-1944. Life of Abraham Lincoln.
    Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952, former owner.
    United States. War Department, former owner.
    United States. Department of State. Archives, former owner.

    Collection Indexes