Her spectrum of photographic work was enormous—rich and poor, black and white, men and women, famous and obscure, young and old—and whether recording proud workers, famous Americans, or scenic splendor, she composed a portrait that evoked a true and lasting visual suggestion of the age. The works published here [1974] represent her ambitious attempt to visually capture two decades of the American scene, and these photographs of the 1890s and the first decade of the twentieth century are a rich legacy, a mosaic of the era.

Stretching and Yawning, Washington, D.C. Johnston’s successful execution of the Washington, D. C. school project in late spring, 1899, was followed a few weeks later by a European trip. At a stop in Naples, Italy, she photographed Admiral George Dewey on the Olympia returning from the Philippines. At the end of the year she photographed the Hampton Institute in Virginia. Her images from Washington, D.C. schools and from the Hampton Institute were part of the American exhibits at the Universal Exposition in Paris 1900, touting American progress. [LOC: LC-USZ62-14704]
Hampton Institute, December 1899. The Hampton Institute was founded by General Samuel Chapman Armstrong during Reconstruction. Booker T. Washington was one of the early students. Daniel and Smock call this image, one of the most often reproduced of the 150 in Johnston’s Hampton series, “the most intriguing of the Hampton photographs.” (Daniel and Smock, 9); see also Wexler, (Tender Violence, 52, 53); Hampton University; and Civil Rights History in Virginia. [LOC: LC-USZ62-38595]
A Class in American History Laura Wexler described this image as a “virtual maelstrom of conflicting currents” (Wexler, Tender Violence, 167). A portion of the Hampton student body was composed of American Indians (Daniel and Smock, 98). [LOC: LC-USZ62-86982]
Hampton School Graduate Home To show the contrast in the lives of Southern blacks as a before and after sequence, Johnston traveled around the Virginia countryside and photographed poor black families and their surroundings and later juxtaposed some of these studies with the relatively prosperous Hampton graduates. The message was clear: “Upward mobility and prosperity depended on industrial education and Christian piety of the Hampton style.” (Daniel and Smock, 101) [LOC: LC-USZ62-38150]

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