Margaret Bourke-White


Biography of Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke-White (June 14, 1904 – August 27, 1971) was an American photographer and documentary photographer. She is best known as the first foreign photographer permitted to take pictures of Soviet Industry, the first female war correspondent (and the first female permitted to work in combat zones) and the first female photographer for Henry Luce's Life magazine, where her photograph appeared on the first cover. She died of Parkinson's disease about eighteen years after she developed her first symptoms.

Margaret Bourke-White was born Margaret White, in the Bronx, New York to Joseph White, a non-practicing Jew from Poland, and Minnie Bourke, who was of Irish Catholic descent. She grew up in Bound Brook, New Jersey (in a neighborhood now part of Middlesex), and graduated from Plainfield High School in Union County. From her naturalist father, an engineer and inventor, she claims to have learned perfectionism; from her "resourceful homemaker" mother, she claims to have developed an unapologetic desire for self-improvement." Bourke-White's brother Roger describes their parents as "Free Thinkers who were intensely interested in advancing themselves and humanity through personal achievement," relating this quality in part to the success of Bourke-White, himself (as a prominent Cleveland businessman and high-tech industry founder) and their older sister, Ruth White, who became well known for her work at the American Bar Association in Chicago, Ill. Roger Bourke White is not surprised at her success: "My sister Margaret was not unfriendly or aloof. Her interest in photography began as a young woman's hobby, supported by her father's enthusiasm for cameras. Despite her interest, in 1922, she began studying herpetology at Columbia University, only to have her interest in photography strengthened after studying under Clarence White (no relation). She left after one semester, following the death of her father. She transferred colleges several times, including: University of Michigan, where she became a member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority; Purdue University in Indiana; and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Bourke-White ultimately graduated from Cornell University with her B.A. in 1927, leaving behind a photographic study of the rural campus for the school's newspaper, including photographs of her famed dormitory Risley Hall. A year later, she moved from Ithaca, New York to Cleveland, Ohio, where she started a commercial photography studio and did architectural and industrial photography.

In 1924, during her studies, she married Everett Chapman, but the couple divorced two years later. Margaret White added her mother's surname, "Bourke" to her name in 1927 and hyphenated it.

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