Margaret Bourke-White

Self-portrait Self-portrait

On this date in 1904, Margaret Bourke-White was born in Manhattan, the daughter of a couple who had been married by Felix Adler, founder of Ethical Culture. Her mother, Minnie Bourke, an Irish American, was a progressive feminist and reportedly an ardent atheist, who always told Margaret she was "invited into the world" as a planned child. Her father, Joe, an amateur inventor, encouraged Margaret's intrepid interest in snakes and wild pets. Margaret graduated from Cornell in 1927 with a degree in herpetology (study of reptiles), after being enrolled in a number of colleges and universities, including Rutgers and Columbia. She was wooed by Henry Luce to become a staff photographer for the nascent Time magazine. In 1930, the adventurous photographer talked herself into Russia, filming as she traveled the Trans-Siberian Railway. She became Life's first woman photographer and the first woman to have a photograph on its cover. In 1937, her book of haunting photographs of the Depression, with text by Erskine Caldwell, was published.

She was married twice, briefly as a very young woman, and from 1939-1942 to Erskine Caldwell. Bourke-White became the first major female war correspondent, covering the invasion of Russia, traveling to North Africa by way of a convoy, which was torpedoed, documenting the war in the Pacific, the liberation of Italy, and the liberation of the death camps. The progressive Bourke-White met Gandhi several times, taking a photograph of him spinning just hours before he was assassinated. Her unforgettable photographs of South Africa informed the world of the injustice of apartheid. Bourke-White had surgery in 1956 for Parkinson's disease, and more surgery in 1961, which left her with impaired speech. In 1971, she fell, and died later that year. Her books include Eyes on Russia (1931), Shooting the Russian War (1942), Purple Heart Valley: A Combat Chronicle of the War in Italy (1944), Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly - A Report on the Collapse of Hitler's 'Thousand Years' (1946), Halfway to Freedom, A Report on the New India (1949) and Portrait of Myself, an autobiography (1963). D. 1971.

“It was a strange little scene. Women were careening about in their cotton print dresses, and several times they nearly threw me off my feet and all but knocked my camera out of my hands as they waved their Bibles and shrieked their 'Praise Be's.' "

—-Margaret Bourke-White, Portrait of Myself, excerpt from chapter "You Have Seen Their Faces"

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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