A Life Less Ordinary

One of Life magazine's original four photographers, Margaret Bourke-White snapped shots around the world

At a time when women were defined by their husbands and judged by the quality of their housework, Margaret Bourke-White set the standard for photojournalism and expanded the possibilities of being female. (Self-Portrait, 1943, Margaret Bourke-White, 19 1/8" x 15 1/4" Vintage gelatin silver print from the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Collection) (Margaret Bourke-White)

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Life published her last story in 1957, but kept her on the masthead until 1969. A year later, the magazine sent Sean Callahan, then a junior editor, to Darien to help her go through her photos for a future book. She had more and more difficulty communicating, and the last time he saw her, in August 1972, two days before her death, all she could do was blink.

"Fittingly for the heroic, larger than life Margaret Bourke-White," Callahan later wrote, "the eyes were the last to go."

Dina Modianot-Fox, a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. who has worked for NBC News and Greenwich magazine, is a frequent Smithsonian.com contributor


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