Margaret Bourke-White Biography

Margaret Bourke-White was a pioneering American photojournalist whose work at home and abroad captured some of the most harrowing events of the early 20th century.  Bourke-White established her career in the 1920s as a photojournalist for LIFE Magazine, documenting the Great Depression and Dust Bowl in the American midwest. She focused her lens internationally as political climates began to swelter in the 1930s, and became famous at the onset of World War II as the first female war correspondent and first woman allowed to work in combat zones.


Born in the Bronx, NY in 1904, Bourke-White graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Biology. After attending a photography course taught by Clarence H. White, it became clear that photography was her life’s calling. At the height of the Great Depression, she opened her first studio in her apartment in Cleveland, Ohio. Photographs taken during this time led Bourke-White to a position with Fortune Magazine, where an assignment caused her to become the first western photo-journalist allowed to photograph the 1930s Soviet Industry. This work caught the eye of LIFE Magazine’s Henry Luce, who hired her as the magazine’s first female photojournalist. On assignment for Life in 1941, Bourke-White was the only foreign photographer to capture the German invasion of Moscow. Throughout the war she was embedded with Allied Forces throughout Europe and Northern Africa. In the aftermath of the war she became one of the first photographers to capture the atrocities of the Holocaust. Later in life, Bourke-White’s international travels continued. While in India, her photographs of Mahatma Gandhi would prove to be the last pictures taken of the Indian leader before his assassination. 


In 1963, Bourke-White wrote an autobiography, Portrait of Myself, which became a bestseller. In 1956, the Art Institute of Chicago held a solo exhibition of her work, and in 1972 Cornell University presented a retrospective spanning her illustrious career. In 1990 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame Today, and was designated a Woman’s History Month Honoree in 1992.


Today, Bourke-White’s works are held in the permanent collections of numerous major institutions, including The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Library of Congress, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Cleveland Museum of Art.