Margaret Bourke-White was born on June 14, 1904 in the Bronx, New York and died in 1971 in Stamford, Connecticut. She was an American photographer and photojournalist during the Dust Bowl, Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. She achieved numerous “firsts” for women and for the photography field: she was the first female war correspondent; the first female allowed to work in a combat zone; the first female photographer to work for Life magazine; and she was the first foreign photographer allowed to photograph the Soviet Industry.
Bourke-White became interested in photography during her childhood and developed her interest further in college. After graduating from Cornell University in 1927, she started a photography studio in Cleveland, Ohio. While in Cleveland, she photographed with Otis Steel Company. Although Otis Steel’s management was reluctant to let a woman shoot in a defense industry factory, Bourke-White produced some of the most valuable steel factory pictures of the 1920s.
Bourke’s first job as a photojournalist was for Fortune magazine, where she worked from 1929 until 1935. While in this position, she photographed the Soviet industry, becoming the first Western photographer to do so.
In 1936, Henry Luce hired Bourke-White as the first female photojournalist for Life magazine. In her first year working for Life, her photograph of the Fort Peck Dam was featured on the magazine’s cover. Bourke-White worked for Life until her retirement in 1969.
Like her contemporary Dorothea Lange, Bourke-White photographed victims of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Collaborating with writer Erskine Caldwell, her husband at the time, Bourke-White created a book about the Great Depression’s impact on the South called You Have Seen Their Faces, which was published in 1937.
During World War II, Bourke-White became the first female war correspondent and the first female to work in actual combat zones. During her time in Europe, Bourke-White was known as “Maggie the Indestructible,” and a February 1943 Life article recounted her as “the woman who had been torpedoed in the Mediterranean, strafed by the Luftwaffe, stranded on an Arctic island, bombarded in Moscow, and pulled out of the Chesapeake when her chopper crashed.”
In 1953, Bourke-White began developing Parkinson’s Disease, and, after undergoing several surgeries, she died at age 67 in Stamford Connecticut. Her legacy lives on, however, and her photographs can be found in museums around the country and Life magazine archives.