Jessie Tarbox was born on December 23, 1870, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. She began taking pictures as a hobby and in 1902 was hired by The Buffalo Inquirer as a staff photographer. Tarbox is thought to be the first woman in the US to hold this position. After covering the World’s Fair in 1904, she moved to New York City and opened a photography studio, taking portraits of famous people including Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain. Tarbox died in 1942.
Photographer and photojournalist. Born Jessie Tarbox on December 23, 1870, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Jessie Tarbox Beals was a pioneer in the field of photography, becoming the first woman to be hired as a staff photographer on a U.S. newspaper. Her first career was as a teacher, working in Massachusetts. In 1888, Beals got her first camera and began taking pictures as a hobby, often in the summertime when school was out. She married Alfred Tennyson Beals in 1897.
Jessie Tarbox Beals taught her husband how to develop negatives and make prints. In 1900, she left teaching and pursued photography full time with her husband as her assistant. They spent some time as a traveling photography team before Jessie Tarbox Beals was hired by The Buffalo Inquirer as a staff photographer in 1902. She is thought to be the first woman in the United States to hold this position.
Becoming restless, Jessie Tarbox Beals moved to St. Louis to cover the World’s Fair in 1904. At first, she wasn’t acknowledged as a press photographer, but she managed to get credentials that allowed her to take pictures of the fair before the exhibits were opened. From those initial images, Beals managed to convince the fair’s administration of her talents, and she became the only official female photographer for the event. While there, she took impressive shots of the fair’s air show, exhibits, and many of its important visitors.
In 1905, Jessie Tarbox Beals fulfilled a professional dream-she moved to New York City and opened a studio. She became known for portraits, documenting her subjects in a realistic, natural style. She also continued to work as a freelance photographer. She was featured in a 1913 The New York Times article about women photographers and described a recent project-“photographing tenement-house conditions for the purpose of reform.”
Separated from her husband in 1917, Jessie Tarbox Beals was left to look after their daughter-who was born in 1911-on her own. With a child to support, she often took whatever type of work she could get. Besides taking pictures, Beals also lectured on the subject of the photography.
During her long career, Jessie Tarbox Beals made numerous portraits of famous people, including President Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and many others. Toward the end of her life, she spent several years in California doing garden photography, and some of these images were published in The New York Times. Beals was also published in such magazines as Ladies’ Home Journal, Town and Country, and Harper’s Bazaar during the course of her career.
Jessie Tarbox Beals died on May 30, 1942, in New York City. While some have said the varied nature of her work prevented her from developing her own distinct artistic style, she will always be remembered as a ground-breaking photographer who inspired many other women to join the field.
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