Woman Making History #12: Margaret Bourke-White


Margaret Bourke-WhiteExciting! Today's Woman Making History is one who is completely new to me!

Margaret Bourke-White was born in 1904 in New York. She developed an interest in photography while attending Columbia University in the early 1920s. After switching schools several times, Bourke-White graduated from Cornell University in 1927. A year later, she moved to Cleveland and took a job as an industrial photographer.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Bourke-White made the switch to magazine photojournalism. She was the first Western photographer allowed into the Soviet Union, and was hired by Life magazine as their first female photojournalist, with one of her pictures featured on the magazine's very first cover. During the mid-1930s, Bourke-White photographed Dust Bowl victims, and she and her husband, novelist Erskine Caldwell, published a book about the Depression, Have You Seen Their Faces.

During World War II, Bourke-White became the first female war correspondent and first female to be allowed to work in a combat zone. When German forces invaded Moscow, she was the only foreign photographer in the city. She then moved on to North Africa, then Italy. In 1945, she traveled through Germany as it collapsed, accompanying the troops of General Patton.

After the war, Bourke-White produced a book of photographs from the Buchenwald concentration camp, Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly.

Bourke-White had a knack for being in the right place at the right time to photograph events and people of great historical significance. Just two years after photographing the survivors at Buchenwald, she took pictures of the violent independence and partition of India and Pakistan. She also interviewed and took pictures of Gandhi just hours before his assassination.

Unusual for a photographer of her time, Bourke-White became somewhat of a celebrity. She did endorsements for coffee and cigarettes, and the heroine of Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" is said to be modeled after her.

In the 1950s, Margaret Bourke-White was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and forced to first slow and then abandon her career. After fighting the disease for many years, she died in 1971.

Boston Globe

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