Saturday, March 18, 2023

Margaret Bourke-White, First Female War Correspondent

 By Nancy J. Farrier

Margaret Bourke-White was born in New York in 1904. Her parents were a huge influence on her life choices. Her mother, Minnie, was a homemaker who was very supportive of her three children and what they chose to focus on. She would see their interest and leave books around the house that they could read and learn more about those interests.


 Margaret Book-White
War Correspondent


Margaret’s father, Joseph, was an engineer and very absent-minded. Sometimes, at restaurants, he would forget to eat his food as he drew designs on the tablecloth. He often stayed silent at home as he planned designs in his head and was distant. However, he too Margaret with him to visit places where his inventions were put to use and she was fascinated with what he achieved. She became fearless and had an eagerness for life. 

In her younger years, Margaret was fascinated with life in the jungle and wanted to be a herpetologist. She pictured herself going to the jungle and finding new species to bring back with her.


In 1920, Margaret’s father died. Margaret had enrolled in Columbia University and her mother gave her a camera. The camera didn’t cost much and had a cracked lens, but Margaret took a class and when she transferred to Cornell University, and couldn’t find a job, she took photographs of the University campus and buildings. The photos were very popular and Let to her getting calls from architects wondering if she would take pictures of their buildings.


Margaret/Chrysler Building
1934, photo by

For quite a while she did industrial photography and in 1930, she was commissioned to document the building of the Chrysler building. Her access to the eagles high up on the building gave her some incredible photos and led to even more renown. She became the first photographer to have access to the Soviet Union and was named one of the ten most notable American women in 1936.


Cover of Life Magazine, 1936

She married Erskine Caldwell and worked with him to publish the book, You Have Seen Their Faces. By this time, Life Magazine was being formed and Margaret was one of the first photographers called to work for them. They asked her to cover the building of a dam in Montana but didn’t give her any idea when or if her photos would be published. Her negatives arrived 24 hours before the first issue of Life was scheduled to release and they were so stunning that one of them made the cover and her cover story was the first true photo essay.


Buchenwald Survivors
Taken by Margaret Bourke-White

After her divorce from Caldwell, Margaret went on to become the first female war correspondent, covering WWII in Africa and traveling with the British bombers to Germany. Her war photo of the death camps were stunning and shocked the world.


Wikimedia Commons

One of her great accomplishments was taking a picture of Ghandi during his meditation with the spinning wheel. She was not allowed to use lights or to talk to Ghandi. She took three flashbulbs and got her famous photo on the third try. 


In 1957, Margaret was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She underwent surgery and treatment but there was no cure. She had to give up her photography and her job with Life but she wrote an autobiography titled, Portrait of Myself. She died in 1971.


American Way of Life - Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons

Margaret’s story is so amazing. What an adventurous woman. Some of the places she took photos were unusual and very daring. Many were a snapshot of life at the time and showcased more than just the people she portrayed, such as her American Life photo. Have you ever heard of Margaret Bourke-White? Do you recognize some of her photos? I’d love to hear your comments.

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Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning, best-selling author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats and dog, and spend time with her family. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. Great post! I've got her autobiography. She was the inspiration for my character Ruth Brown in my WWII mystery series.

  2. Thank you for posting today. I don't remember seeing her pictures specifically. I love the fact that her mom left books around the house that related to things her children were interested in. That is a wonderful gift!!! Even if they were library books, it's a great way to fuel little minds with great ideas.

    1. Connie, I loved that too. I also loved that her mom was so tuned in to what each of her children liked. Amazing story.