Beals, Jessie Tarbox, 1870-1942

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Jessie Tarbox Beals (December 23, 1870 – May 30, 1942) was an American photographer, the first published female photojournalist in the United States and the first female night photographer.

She is best known for her freelance news photographs, particularly of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, and portraits of places such as Bohemian Greenwich Village.

Her trademarks were her self-described "ability to hustle" and her tenacity in overcoming gender barriers in her profession.

Beals was born Jessie Richmond Tarbox on December 23, 1870, in Hamilton, Ontario, the youngest child of John Nathaniel Tarbox and Marie Antoinette Bassett. John Tarbox was a sewing machine manufacturer, and his partnership with the largest sewing machine company in Canada made the Tarbox family wealthy. When Beals was seven, however, her father lost all of his savings in a bad investment and began drinking heavily. He eventually left home at the insistence of Beals's mother, who then embroidered and sold some of the family's belongings to keep the family income going.

Beals was a "bright and precocious child" and did well in school. At age fourteen she was admitted to the Collegiate Institute of Ontario, and at seventeen received her teaching certificate. Beals began teaching at a one-room schoolhouse in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, where her brother Paul was also living at the time. In 1888, Beals won a subscription prize camera through the Youth's Companion magazine. The camera was small and somewhat rudimentary, but Beals began to use it to take photographs of her students and their surroundings. Beals soon bought a higher quality Kodak camera and set up Williamsburg's first photography studio in front of her house, although photography largely remained her side hobby.

In 1893 Beals took a new teaching position in Greenfield, Massachusetts and visited the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. At the Exposition, Beals' interest in traveling and photography was sparked having met Frances Benjamin Johnston and Gertrude Käsebier.

In 1897, Beals married Alfred Tennyson Beals, an Amherst graduate and factory machinist.

In 1899, Beals received her first professional assignment when she was asked by The Boston Post to photograph the Massachusetts state prison. Beals taught Alfred the basics of photography and the couple set out to work as itinerant photographers in 1900, with Alfred as Beals's darkroom assistant. That year, Beals also received her first credit line for her photographs in a publication, the Windham County Reformer.

By 1901, the Beals' funds were depleted and they resettled in Buffalo, New York. Later that year, Beals was hired as a staff photographer by the Buffalo Inquirer and The Buffalo Courier, after impressing the editor with a photograph of ducks waddling in a row entitled "On to Albany." This position made her the first female photojournalist and was well-regarded by the papers and citizens of Buffalo and worked at the publications until 1904 when she left to take photos of the World's Fair.

Photojournalism was physically demanding, often risky work, but Beals could be seen carrying out assignments in her ankle-length dresses and large hats, with her 8-by-10-inch glass plate camera and 50 pounds of equipment in tow. During one assignment for the lurid murder trial of Edwin L. Burdick in Buffalo, Beals broke a rule that forbade photographs of the trial by climbing a tall bookcase to a window to snap a picture of the courtroom before she was detected.

In 1904, Beals was sent to the opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri. There, Beals persuaded officials to give her a late press permit for the pre-exposition, climbed ladders and jumped into a hot air balloon just to get photographs that interested her. She was greatly interested in the Indigenous peoples which resulted in capturing many spontaneous images that didn't necessarily fit into the predominate narrative of racial and developmental progress. She had a different style than most news photographers of the day, focusing on series of pictures that would later be used to write stories, rather than vice versa. Beals's display of her signature "hustle" earned her the position of official Fair photographer for the New York Herald, Leslie's Weekly and the Tribune, as well as the Fair's publicity department, producing over 3,500 photographs and 45,000 prints of the event.

In addition to photographing the various exhibits at the Fair, Beals also captured a candid photograph of President Theodore Roosevelt. This initial encounter earned her a special pass to photograph Roosevelt and the Rough Riders at their reunion in San Antonio, Texas in 1905.

In 1905 Beals opened her own studio on Sixth Avenue in New York City. Beals continued to take on a variety of photograph assignments, ranging from shots of auto races and portraits of society figures, to her well-known photographs of Bohemian Greenwich Village and the New York slums. Over the years Beals also photographed several presidents and celebrities, including Presidents Coolidge, Hoover and Taft; Mark Twain; Edna St. Vincent Millay; and Emily Post.

While Beals' career flourished, her marriage became troubled. In 1911, Beals gave birth to a daughter, Nanette Tarbox Beals, most likely from another relationship. Beals finally left her husband in 1917.

She moved to Greenwich Village and opened a new photography studio and gallery in 1920. For a few years, Beals juggled working and caring for Nanette, who also suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and was frequently hospitalized, eventually deciding to send Nanette to camps and private boarding schools throughout the year. Nanette would later go on to live semi-permanently with one of Beals' old friends.

As the number of female photographers increased during the 1920s, Beals shifted her focus to giving public talks and specializing in photographing suburban gardens and estates of wealthy East Coasters.

By 1928, she and Nanette moved to California, where Beals photographed Hollywood estates. The Great Depression brought Beals and Nanette back to New York in 1933, where Beals lived and worked in Greenwich Village.

Beals gradually fell into poverty, years of lavish living and the effects of the Depression having taken their toll. She died on May 30, 1942 at Bellevue Hospital, at the age of seventy-one.

Her photographs and prints are in collections at the Library of Congress, Harvard University, the New-York Historical Society, and the American Museum of Natural History. In 1982, the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe received Beals' papers and pictures from her daughter, Nanette Beals Brainerd.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Beals, Jessie Tarbox, 1870-1942. Artist file : miscellaneous uncataloged material. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
creatorOf Beals, Jessie Tarbox, 1870-1942. Jessie Tarbox Beals : Artist File. International Center of Photography
referencedIn Community Service Society Archives, 1842-1995. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
creatorOf Photographs, 1896-1941, n.d. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn People's Institute records, 1883-1933, 1897-1927 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Papers of Mary Ware Dennett Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf People's Institute (New York, N.Y.). People's Institute records, 1883-1933, bulk (1897-1927). New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Swords and plowshares historic pageant photograph collection [graphic], 1919. Minnesota Historical Society
creatorOf Beals, Jessie Tarbox,. Stout family photographs, ca. 1840-1966. Massachusetts Historical Society
creatorOf Beals, Jessie Tarbox. Trowbridge and Beals collection, ca. 1923-1936 Ball State University, College of Architecture and Planning
referencedIn Lathrop C. and Mabel H. Urner Harper Photograph Collection, [1872]-1954, undated (Bulk 1891-1934) New-York Historical Society
creatorOf Beals, Jessie Tarbox. [Scrapbook of newspaper and magazine clippings, photographs, flier, and a letter relating to the marches in New York City in support of women's suffrage, and the women's suffrage movement in the United States] : scrapbook, 1912. New-York Historical Society
referencedIn Community Service Society. Archives, 1842-1995. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Records of the President of Radcliffe College, 1972-1989 Radcliffe College Archives, Radcliffe Institute
creatorOf Beals, Jessie Tarbox. Correspondence with Theodore Dreiser, 1926. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Weir family photographs, circa 1840-1940 L. Tom Perry Special Collections
creatorOf Beals, Jessica T.. Beals, Jessica T. : [photography bio file]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
creatorOf Beals, Jessie Tarbox. Photographs, 1896-1941 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Papers of Jessie Tarbox Beals, (inclusive), (bulk), 1866-1989, 1880-1942 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Beals, Jessie Tarbox, 1870-1942. Jessie Tarbox Beals : Artist File. International Center of Photography
referencedIn Dennett, Mary Ware, 1872-1947. Papers: Series II, 1894-1948 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Byrdcliffe (Art colony). Papers, ca.1869-2000. Winterthur Library
creatorOf New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. New York State Agricultural Experiment Station records, 1859-2008. Cornell University Library
creatorOf Beals, Jessie Tarbox,. Swords and plowshares historic pageant photograph collection [graphic] Minnesota Historical Society Library
referencedIn Washington Square Park (New York, N.Y.), Washington Square Area, and Campus Buildings Image Collection, 1850-1990 New York University. Archives
creatorOf Beals, Jessie Tarbox. Papers, 1886-1979 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Beals, Jessie Tarbox. Photographs of houses and gardens, 1925-1939 (bulk). Harvard University, Frances Loeb Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Anderson, Judith, Dame, 1898-1992. person
associatedWith Auslander, Joseph, 1897-1965. person
associatedWith Beals, Alfred person
associatedWith Beals, Alfred. person
associatedWith Beals, Nanette person
associatedWith Belmont, August, 1813-1890. person
associatedWith Belmont, August, 1816-1890 person
associatedWith Blasco Ibanez, Vicente, 1867-1928 person
associatedWith Booth, Edwin, 1833-1893. person
associatedWith Borglum, Gutzon, 1867-1941. person
associatedWith Boylan, Grace Duffie, 1861?-1935. person
associatedWith Brainerd, Nanette Beals, 1911- person
associatedWith Bryan, Isabelle person
associatedWith Bryan, Isabelle. person
associatedWith Bryan, William Jennings, 1860-1925. person
associatedWith Burroughs, John, 1837-1921. person
associatedWith Byrdcliffe (Art colony). corporateBody
associatedWith Campbell, Joseph, 1879- person
associatedWith Campbell, Joseph, 1879-1944. person
associatedWith Clarke, Caspar Purdon, 1846-1911. person
associatedWith Coman, Charlotte Buell, 1833-1924. person
associatedWith Community Service Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Craigie, Pearl Mary Teresa Richards, 1867-1906 person
associatedWith Crothers, Rachel, 1878-1958. person
associatedWith Currier & Ives corporateBody
associatedWith Dennett, Mary Ware, 1872-1947 person
correspondedWith Duffield, Anne person
associatedWith Duveneck, Frank, 1848-1919. person
associatedWith Eberle, Abastenia St. Leger, 1878- person
associatedWith Federal Writers' Project. corporateBody
associatedWith Fokine, Michel, 1880-1942. person
associatedWith Fokine, Vera person
associatedWith Fokine, Vera. person
associatedWith Francis, David Rowland, 1850-1927. person
associatedWith Geddes, Norman Bel, 1893-1958. person
associatedWith Geddes, Norman Bel, 1993-1958 person
associatedWith Goodwin, Grace Duffield, 1869-? person
associatedWith Griffin, Lillian Barnes person
associatedWith Griffin, Lillian Barnes. person
associatedWith Harper, Lathrop Colgate, 1867-1950 person
associatedWith Hassam, Childe, 1859-1935. person
associatedWith Hayakawa, Sesshū, 1889-1973. person
associatedWith Herrick, Myron T. (Myron Timothy), 1854-1929. person
associatedWith Herter, Albert, 1871- person
associatedWith Hibbard, C. J., person
associatedWith Hibbard, C. J., photographer. person
associatedWith Hobbes, John Oliver, 1867-1906. person
associatedWith Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964. person
associatedWith Hoover, Lou Henry, 1874-1944. person
associatedWith Hotel Allerton corporateBody
associatedWith Howells, William Dean, 1837-1920. person
associatedWith Hurst, Fannie, 1889-1968. person
associatedWith Illington, Margaret, 1881-1934. person
associatedWith Jefferson, Joseph, 1869-1919. person
associatedWith Kate Douglas Wiggin person
associatedWith King, Louisa Yeomans, 1863-1948 person
associatedWith Kit Kat Club corporateBody
associatedWith La Guardia, Fiorello, H, (Fiorello Henry), 1882-1947 person
correspondedWith League of American Pen Women corporateBody
associatedWith Lie, Jonas, 1880-1940. person
associatedWith Lincoln, Joseph Crosby, 1870-1944. person
associatedWith Lincoln Museum corporateBody
associatedWith Logan, Mrs. Frank person
associatedWith Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904 : Saint Louis, Mo.) corporateBody
associatedWith MacDowell Colony (Peterborough, N.H.) corporateBody
associatedWith MacDowell, Marian Griswold (Nevins), 1857-1956 person
correspondedWith Matina Horner person
associatedWith Mayhew, Ralph. person
associatedWith Minneapolis Institute of Arts corporateBody
associatedWith National League of American Pen Women. corporateBody
associatedWith New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. corporateBody
associatedWith New York State National Guard corporateBody
associatedWith New York University. corporateBody
associatedWith O'Neill, Rose Cecil, 1874-1944. person
associatedWith Pen and Brush Club (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Pen and Brush Club (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Pendleton, Isabelle person
associatedWith Pendleton, Isabelle. person
associatedWith People's Institute (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Post, Emily, 1873-1960 person
associatedWith Post, Emily, 1873-1960. person
associatedWith Potter, Grace person
associatedWith Potter, Grace. person
associatedWith Powys, John Cowper, 1872-1963. person
associatedWith Reed, John, 1887-1920 person
associatedWith Rippin, Jane Parker Deeter, 1882-1953. person
associatedWith Rives, Amélie, 1863-1945. person
associatedWith Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919 person
associatedWith Ross, Ishbel, 1897-1975. person
associatedWith Saint Andrews Golf Course corporateBody
associatedWith San Antonio Mission corporateBody
associatedWith Seton-Thompson, Grace Gallatin person
associatedWith Sinclair, Upton, 1878-1968 person
associatedWith Smith, Alfred Emanuel, 1873-1944 person
associatedWith Smith, Frances Grace, 1871- person
associatedWith Taft, William H. (William Howard), 1857-1930 person
correspondedWith Tarbell, Ida person
associatedWith Tarbell, Ida M. (Ida Minerva), 1857-1944. person
associatedWith Tarkington, Booth, 1869-1946. person
associatedWith Tarkington, Newton Booth, 1869-1946 person
associatedWith Teasdale, Sara, 1884-1933. person
associatedWith Terhune, Albert Payson, 1872-1942. person
correspondedWith Theodore Roosevelt person
associatedWith The Village Art Gallery corporateBody
associatedWith Tom Thumb person
associatedWith Troubetzkoy, Prince Pierre, 1864-1936 person
associatedWith Troubetzkoy, Princess Amelie Rives, 1863-1945 person
associatedWith Twain, Mark, 1835-1910 person
associatedWith United States. Army. Volunteer Cavalry, 1st. corporateBody
associatedWith Urner, Mabel Herbert, 1881-1957 person
associatedWith Walker, Mary Edwards, 1832-1919 person
associatedWith Weir (Family : Weir, Robert Walter, 1803-1889) family
associatedWith Wheeler, Candace, 1827-1923 person
associatedWith Wiggam, Albert Edward, 1875? -1957 person
associatedWith Wiggin, Kate Douglas Smith, 1856-1923 person
associatedWith William Howard Taft person
associatedWith Winter, Alice Ames, 1865-1944. person
associatedWith Woodin, William H. (William Hartman), 1868-1934. person
associatedWith Works Progress Administration corporateBody
associatedWith World's Columbian Exposition (1893 : Chicago, Ill.) corporateBody
associatedWith World's Fair corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Lower East Side (New York, N.Y.)
Boston (Mass.)
New York (City)
Saint Louis (Mo.)
New Orleans (La.)
Chicago (Ill.)
Cape Cod (Mass.)
Boston (Mass.)
Louisiana--New Orleans
United States
Cape Cod (Mass.)
Saint Louis (Mo.)
New Orleans (La.)
Santa Barbara (Calif.)
New York (N.Y.)
Santa Barbara (Calif.)
New York (State)--New York
Lower East Side (New York, N.Y.)
Washington (D.C.)
Chicago (Ill.)
Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)
Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)
New York (N.Y.)
United States
Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)
Architecture, Domestic
African Americans
African Americans
Architectural photography
Documentary photography
Domestic animals
Historical drama
Interior decoration
Photography of cats
Photography of children
Photography of families
Photography of men
Photography of women
Portrait photography
Women-owned business enterprises
Women photographers
World history
Interior decorators


Birth 1870-12-23

Death 1942-05-30






Ark ID: w68q6r0x

SNAC ID: 85580173