Johnston’s huge photograph collection in the Library of Congress is still being processed [at the time of Daniel and Smock’s writing in 1974], and part of it remains in unsorted condition in the original file cabinets. The Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress has some 17,000 items of her correspondence; these documents reveal far less than might be expected.
She was a fiercely independent person who often scoffed at social conventions; yet her private life remains hidden behind a veil of Victorian manners. Her letters speak lightly of the weather, of travel, and other polite topics that frustrate the biographer. More often her surviving correspondence concerns business details or notes she made to herself regarding her work. She might, for example, make a notebook entry that explained the coloration of a garden scene so that she could make a hand-colored print at a later time. Her papers reveal that she was absorbed by her photography and often did not give proper attention to business matters, sometimes even failing to open bills. Often, when the excitement of a new assignment was over, she failed to rush her prints on to the market and let business suffer while she searched for new friends and adventure. Her agent, George Grantham Bain, expressed his frustration with her in an 1899 letter. “You have caused me serious losses by not delivering promptly prints of pictures which I knew had been taken.”
Her friends referred to Frances as a small, frail, but very attractive woman. Photographs reveal little of the fragility but rather capture her dynamism and strength.