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The New Woman: Frances Benjamin Johnston

The ‘New Woman’ was a term coined in the late 19th century and often used to describe feminist, educated and independent career women who challenged social norms.

Frances Benjamin Johnston embodied the idea of this ‘New Woman’ and even referenced it in her work—notably her renowned 1896 ‘Self-Portrait (as New Woman)’, which shows her confidently posed, beer in hand and petticoats showing.

Johnston was an enthusiastic student of photography before opening her own studio in Washington in 1894. Her wealthy family’s connections allowed her access to certain circles and she was able to photograph many of her famous contemporaries, including Mark Twain and Susan B. Anthony.

In 1895, she was profiled by The Washington Times as part of a story on Washington business women: “Miss Frances Benjamin Johnston is the only lady in the business of photography in the city, and in her skillful hands it has become an art that rivals the geniuses of the old world”.

Works

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Portrait with Family in StudioFrances Benjamin Johnston, 1896
Portrait with Family in Studio
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Self-PortaitFrances Benjamin Johnston, 1880-1900
Self-Portait
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Portrait with Mills ThompsonFrances Benjamin Johnston, 1885
Portrait with Mills Thompson
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Mattie Edwards HewittFrances Benjamin Johnston, 1910
Mattie Edwards Hewitt
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The Briars, Natchez vic., Adams County, MississippiFrances Benjamin Johnston, 1938
The Briars, Natchez vic., Adams County, Mississippi
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Full-Length PortraitFrances Benjamin Johnston, c. 1888–1920
Full-Length Portrait
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Self-Portrait (as "New Woman")Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1896
Self-Portrait (as  "New Woman")
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Four Figures at Water EdgeFrances Benjamin Johnston, 1914
Four Figures at Water Edge
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Group Portrait of Friends at Social GatheringFrances Benjamin Johnston, 1899
Group Portrait of Friends at Social Gathering
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Frances F. ClevelandFrances Benjamin Johnston, 1897
Frances F. Cleveland