Frances Benjamin Johnson

Frances Benjamin Johnson was nearing the height of her success when she visited the Exposition on business. She was a professional photographer, 37 years old, and about to take the photograph that would become associated with the McKinley assassination.

Although her credentials (right) describe her as a photo correspondent, she was never steadily employed in that capacity. With an artist's eye for composition, Johnston sought out larger projects that would enable her to create images that told stories and exercised her skills. In 1899, she was hired by the Hampton Institute, a school founded for the education of ex-slaves, to photograph the students in various classroom and vocational settings. Many of the photos from this project appeared in the "American Negro" exhibit in Paris and at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. She may have stopped at the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building to see her work.

But her main purpose in coming to Buffalo was to photograph the Exposition, which she did at least 279 times. She deliberately arrived in time to photograph the visit of President William McKinley on September 5 and 6. Some of those photos are here.

After the assassination, Johnston made and sold postcard-sized copies of this image of McKinley speaking at the Exposition grounds the day before he was shot. Perhaps because it was so popular, the image is the one most often used to illustrate the President's trip to Buffalo.

Frances Benjamin Johnston's career would last another 50 years. Her estate donated photographs to the Library of Congress which reveal the American South during the early part of the 20th Century, formal portraits of the Theodore Roosevelt family and other notable figures of her lifetime, extensive photographic records of the homes and gardens of wealthy Americans, and other work that demonstrates her talent and energy.

For more information, see "The Woman Behind the Lens: Life & Work of Frances Benjamin Johnston" by Bettina Berch.


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