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America’s First Female War Photojournalist Writes About Her Work

Item: 21707
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BOURKE-WHITE, MARGARET. (1904-1971). America’s first female war photojournalist best known for her extensive work for LIFE Magazine. ALS. (“Margaret Bourke-White”). 3pp. 4to. Darien, October 24, 1954. To American writer and explorer EDNA ROBB WEBSTER (1896-1978?).

“Under separate cover the two pictures of myself go out to you – the shots about which I wrote you. In one I am sitting in the Kennebec River in Maine taking pictures in a bathing suit; in the other I am in tropical helmet and rain cape riding on a mule thru the mountains of Honduras working with priests on the Jesuit story – riding to very remote villiages [sic] thru the jungle.

I’m sorry there has been so much red tape about the LIFE pictures. All I can say about that is that it used to be much worse. There was a time when almost nothing that was taken to LIFE could be reproduced outside, but they’ve loosened up on that policy a great deal. Since I couldn’t tell them for what magazine the pix were intended (note blank spaces in stamps on the backs) – just let me know soon as you can. I fully understand the reasons given in your letter. Only please stay away from the Ladies Home Journal, and from the McCall’s-Good Housekeeping group, as my book publishers may do something in these directions – later – when my own book is finished. Just let me know soon as you can if and where something is placed. I’m glad to have you do it, on the basis of your excellent article, and am only sorry there has been such delay at this end. Good luck on it. 

Alas I will not be in California – at least not before next spring. And while I’m sorry, it is for a good reason. The areo-color shots of Food & Harvest regions went so well that LIFE has already put the story to bed & no room for more. It was laid out just this week – and will be the lead story in the magazine – 10 pages in color – I’m very proud & dazzled by it as you can imagine, for its [sic] unusual to give such space to a piece like this. It will be called the Look of the Land, and will be in the special food issue of January 1st, ’55….”


Margaret Bourke-White photographing in the Kennebec River, Maine, circa 1950

Margaret Bourke-White photographing in the Kennebec River, Maine, circa 1950

Margaret Bourke-White Self-Portrait on Mule, Honduras, 1953

Self-Portrait on Mule, Honduras, 1953


Bourke-White was a driving force at LIFE, where after becoming the magazine’s first female staff photographer and shooting its first cover, she was granted unprecedented access into the USSR. She used her Soviet credentials to cover combat zones in World War II and was the only foreign photographer in Moscow when it was invaded by Germany, taking refuge in the American Embassy and documenting the historic events as they unfolded. Bourke-White continued to cover the war and was attached to the U.S. Air Force in North Africa, in 1944, becoming the first woman to accompany the Air Force on a combat mission. Her wartime escapades, which included being torpedoed in the Mediterranean and strafed by the Luftwaffe, earned her the nickname “Maggie the Indestructible.”

In 1953, Bourke-White journeyed to a remote Jesuit mission in the mountains of Honduras, which could only be reached by donkey, and in 1956, her work among the Jesuits was published in the book A Report on the American Jesuits. Our letter enthusiastically discusses her color aerial views of American farmland that were published in the January 1955 issue of LIFE.

January 3, 1955 Food Issue of LIFE

Webster began her writing career after traveling with inventor T.A. Willard to Mexico’s Yucatan region where she explored Mayan ruins. She subsequently penned books and articles about travel in Mexico, Cuba and California and became an authority on Mayan culture. In addition to her nonfiction works, such as T.A. Willard: Wizard of the Storage Battery and Early Exploring in Lands of the Maya, she authored 17 novels, including Love Preferred, Five O’clock Girl, and Dad’s Girl; the Story of a Girl Who Deserved to Win. Our letter discusses a prospective article by Webster about Bourke-White, ultimately published in the March 1955 issue of Independent Woman and entitled “Tells the Story of Our Times in Photographs.”

Written on three separate sheets. Folded with normal wear. In very good condition and surprisingly rare, especially with good content.

America’s First Female War Photojournalist Writes About Her Work

$1200 • item #21707

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