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Jesse Tarbox Beals

Jessie Richmond Tarbox Beals was born to John and Marie Bassett Tarbox in Ontario, Canada on December 23, 1870. Her father, a machinist, invented a portable sewing machine, which enabled his family to live comfortably for seven years, until his patent expired. The family split shortly thereafter, and Mrs. Tarbox became a working single mother to her children. After receiving her teaching certification in 1887, Miss Tarbox settled in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Her interest in photography began the following year when she won a camera prize for selling magazine subscriptions. She began supplementing her income by taking portraits of Smith College students, and after attending a Chautauqua Assembly educational seminar, her primary focus became news photography.

An 1893 trip to photograph the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago changed Jessie Tarbox's life forever. For the next three weeks, she and her ever-present compact Kodak camera photographed the Exposition's many sights and visitors. She also made important contacts with other female photographers such as Gertrude Kasebier. After that experience, her job as a small-town schoolteacher held little appeal. After her marriage to Amherst alumnus Alfred Tennyson Beals in 1897, the couple became a freelance photographic team with Mrs. Beals wielding the camera and her husband serving as her darkroom assistant. When she began earning more money from freelancing than from teaching, she resigned her position in 1900 to become a full-time photographer. The Beals settled in Buffalo, New York, where Mrs. Beals joined the staff of The Buffalo Inquirer, thus becoming the first female news photographer. Anxious to demonstrate her rightful place alongside her male counterparts, she exhibited her strength by using a cumbersome 8x10 format camera weighing 50 pounds. When covering the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, she photographed such luminaries as Presidents William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt. President Roosevelt was so impressed with Mrs. Beals' work, he provided her with credentials to photograph a reunion of his Rough Riders in 1905.


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