Vintage: U.S. Classroom Scenes (late 19th Century)

Vintage: U.S. Classroom Scenes (late 19th Century)


Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) was born during the American Civil War. Her 60-year career as a photographer began with portrait, news, and documentary work then turned to a focus on contemporary architecture and gardens, culminating in a survey of historic buildings in the southern United States.

In the 1880s, Johnston studied art in Paris and then returned home to Washington, DC, where she learned photography. She quickly established a national reputation as a professional photographer and businesswoman, with growing success in both the art and commercial worlds.

In the 1890s and early 1900s, as one of the first photojournalists, she provided images to the Bain News Service syndicate and wrote illustrated articles for many magazines. Her active roles in pictorialist photo exhibitions and world’s fairs reflect her high level of energy and determination as well as her exceptional photographic talent.

An interest in progressive education resulted in pioneering projects to document students at public schools in Washington, DC; the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama; the Hampton Institute in Virginia; and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.

Outdoor class in botany, Washington, DC, ca. 1899

Outdoor class in botany, Washington, DC, ca. 1899. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

Hampton Institute, Hampton, Va., ca. 1898 - 11 students in uniform playing guitars, banjos, mandolins, and cello

Hampton Institute, Hampton, Va., ca. 1898 – 11 students in uniform playing guitars, banjos, mandolins, and cello. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

Louis Firetail (Sioux, Crow Creek), wearing tribal clothing, giving a presentation in an American history class, Hampton Institute, Hampton, Virginia, 1899-1900

Louis Firetail (Sioux, Crow Creek), wearing tribal clothing, giving a presentation in an American history class, Hampton Institute, Hampton, Virginia, 1899-1900. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

A class in dressmaking, Hampton Institute, Hampton, Virginia, 1899

A class in dressmaking, Hampton Institute, Hampton, Virginia, 1899. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

Classroom scenes in Washington, D.C. public schools - outdoor exercise with rods - 3rd Division, ca. 1899

Classroom scenes in Washington, D.C. public schools – outdoor exercise with rods – 3rd Division, ca. 1899. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

History class at the Tuskegee Institute

History class at the Tuskegee Institute. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

Students of 8th Division school using rulers, yardsticks, and measuring tape in school yard, Washington, DC, ca. 1899

Students of 8th Division school using rulers, yardsticks, and measuring tape in school yard, Washington, DC, ca. 1899. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

School children learning a dance in a school yard, Washington, DC, 1899

School children learning a dance in a school yard, Washington, DC, 1899. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

Schoolgirls doing calisthenics

Schoolgirls doing calisthenics. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

Elementary school class on Native American Culture

Elementary school class on Native American Culture. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

Female students exercising with dumbbells, Western High School, Washington, DC, 1899

Female students exercising with dumbbells, Western High School, Washington, DC, 1899. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

Girls in a science laboratory at Eastern High School, Washington, DC, 1899

Girls in a science laboratory at Eastern High School, Washington, DC, 1899. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

Thanksgiving Day lesson at Whittier, 1899-1900

Thanksgiving Day lesson at Whittier, 1899-1900. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

6 girls in art class, drawing at easels, Eastern High School, Washington, DC, 1899

6 girls in art class, drawing at easels, Eastern High School, Washington, DC, 1899. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

African American schoolgirls with teacher, learning to cook on a wood stove in classroom, 1899

African American schoolgirls with teacher, learning to cook on a wood stove in classroom, 1899. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

Women painting at easels in a class at the Art Students' League, Washington, DC, 1889

Women painting at easels in a class at the Art Students’ League, Washington, DC, 1889. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

Isadora Duncan's dance students, early 1900s

Isadora Duncan’s dance students, early 1900s. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston

Machine shop class, Washington, DC, ca. 1899

Machine shop class, Washington, DC, ca. 1899. Photo: Frances Benjamin Johnston


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