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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • VINTAGE ALASKA, c. 1920s

New Woman: 1896

New Woman: 1896

        Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952), best known on these pages as a prolific chronicler of Southern architecture, was also something of a feminist firebrand in her younger years. The photographer is seen here at age 32 in a triple-threat sendup of the 1890s "New Woman" -- smoking, drinking, showing some leg.

Self-Portrait as "New Woman," 1896. "Frances Benjamin Johnston, seated in front of fireplace, facing left, holding cigarette in one hand and beer stein in the other, in her Washington, D.C., studio." Gelatin silver print. View full size.

 

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Sweetly risque

I just looked through a pile of photos of my relatives from around the turn of the 20th century and this photo isn't so unusual. Young women could cause quite a ruckus back in the day. I love her witchy looking shoes and odd little hat, plus the irony of a row of men lined up above her.

Photographic Memory

The left-most photo on the mantlepiece appears to be the Canadian poet and writer Bliss Carman - he was born in 1861 and died in 1929. There are couple of other photos extant where he is dressed in what might be the same coat, etc. Perhaps this will narrow the window of discovery a bit.

Interesting Works of Art

As one might expect from someone with an eye for photography, it is apparent that Ms. Johnston also had an eye for selecting art for her home.

Check out the apparently Native American canteen jug hanging by the fireplace, the perfectly proportioned hand-thrown water jug on the floor, the amphora-like jug on the table, and the more Victorian vase on the mantle.

But, the absolute prize is her gargoyle candle luminaire! He's got HORNS on his (her?) head!

Unconventional must have been her watchword!

Long in the Leg

She may be showing some leg, but the figurine waiter/waitress behind her is showing a heck of a lot more leg.

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