Ten Early Women Photographers You Should Know
Updated: May 12, 2022
In honor of Women’s History Month, I’m shining a light on some of the many under-recognized and under-valued women photographers of the past. Sadly, there are way too many photographers who should have and no doubt would have been better known except for their gender. I know I won’t be able to list as many as should be recognized, but here are some that definitely deserve more attention.
Sarah Angelina Acland (1849–1930) was an English amateur photographer who was credited by her contemporaries with inaugurating color photography “as a process for the travelling amateur”. She experimented with color as early as 1899, and in 1904 she exhibited 33 color prints at the Royal Photographic Society. Her images inspired a new generation of younger photographers to take up the color process for the first time.
Anna Atkins (1799–1871) is considered to be the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographs. In 1843 she self-published the first volume of of a work she called Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. Only 17 copies of the book are known to have survived, but her stunning blue cyanoytpe photograms of plants have an other-worldly quality that captivates viewers even today.
Sarah Anne Bright (1793–1866) was a 19th-century English artist and photographer who produced the earliest surviving photographic images created by a woman. Her work was completely unknown until 2015 when it was discovered by an expert on early English photography after this and a few other images were offered at auction in New York. Only a handful of her photograms are known to have survived.
Jessie Tarbox Beals (1870–1942) was the first published female photojournalist in the United States and the first woman known to photograph at night. In 1901 she became the staff photographer for the Buffalo Inquirer (NY), a job that required her to haul around an 8 x 10 inch glass plate camera and 50 pounds of other equipment. She gained a reputation for taking photos from unusual locations, including a hot air balloon.
Zaida Ben-Yusuf (1869–1933) was an American portrait photographer noted for her artistic portraits of upper-class Americans at the turn of the 19th–20th century. She opened her own studio in New York in 1897 and quickly became sought after by socialites and wealthy business leaders because of her elegant style. Her work had been mostly forgotten until it was rediscovered in 2003 by a curator at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
Alice Boughton (1866–1943) was an early 20th-century American photographer known for her photographs of many literary and theatrical figures of her time. After opening her own studio in 1890, she furthered her studies by working with well-known photographer Gertrude Käsebier in Paris. Among the many people who posed in her portrait studio Eugene O’Neill, Albert Pinkham Ryder, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Rose Clark and Elizabeth Flint Wade — Portrait of Miss M. of Washington, 1900
Rose Clark (1852–1942) and Elizabeth Flint Wade (1849–1915) were early 20th-century American artists and photographers best known for the prints they exhibited under their joint names, either as “Rose Clark and Elizabeth Flint Wade” or as “Misses Clark and Wade”. The two worked closely together for many years, creating stylized pictorial images that were highly acclaimed by Alfred Stieglitz and many others.
Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864–1952) was a photographer and photojournalist whose career lasted for almost half a century. She was given her first camera by George Eastman himself, and over the course of her lifetime she took hundreds of portraits and many important documentary photos. In addition to her own photography, she co-curated (with Zaida Ben-Yusuf) a groundbreaking exhibition of photographs by twenty-eight women photographers at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.
Julia Ann Rudolph (c1820–c1900) was a 19th-century American studio photographer active in both New York and California. She worked in a Daguerreotype studio as early as 1852 before setting up her own studio in Nevada City, California in 1856. She was one of only a handful of women who earned a living as a photographer at the time, and she continued working as a photographer for nearly 40 years.
Eva Watson-Schütze — The Rose, 1905
Eva Watson-Schütze (1867–1935) was an American photographer and painter who was one of the founding members of the Photo-Secession. She studied with artist and photographer Thomas Eakins in the 1880s and opened her own studio in Philadelphia in 1897. She strongly encouraged other women to take up photography as a profession, and she objected to being included in exhibitions that were limited to women only. She said “I want [my work] judged by only one standard irrespective of sex.”
All images are from Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain