Surprisingly, Johnston’s correspondence contains little that illuminates those friends and their relationship to her. However, according to available information, these men and women were a segment of the artistic community of Washington, with old family friends and even her mother, whom Frances called “Muddie,” and Aunt Nin included at times. Those who did write to her would occasionally mention roasting corn or apples, or singing, or just sitting around talking and drinking wine. A better description of this set can be seen in photographs; Johnston was the centrice.

Johnston really lived two lives during the 1890s. She was a properly conventional Victorian woman who had entry to the White House and the circles of official Washington.

But, on the other hand, her friends and associates were artists, poets, playwrights, and actors whose lifestyles often mocked the Victorian conventions that Johnston publicly upheld.

She apparently moved with ease between these two worlds. To the eyes of some of her contemporaries the very fact that she was a woman in a male-dominated profession marked her as an unconventional person.

Despite the Bohemian aspect of Johnston’s life, she was neither a crusader nor a reformer. Her work does, however show a comprehensive interest in and concern for humanity, especially for the role of women in American life.

Self-portrait as a Bohemian woman. This self-portrait is the most frequently reprinted selp-portrait of Johnston, and one that continues to attract critical analysis (See Wexler, Tender Violence, 161). Daniel and Smock may be the first to publish this image. They claim that “three symbols of rebellion against Victorian formality appear in this self-portrait taken about 1896. Proper Victorian women were not expected to smoke, to drink beer, or to reveal their petticoats” (Daniel and Smock, 31). [LOC: J698-10011]
Self-portrait as a proper Victorian lady. [LOC: LC- USZ62-47568]