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