Margaret Bourke-White (/ˌbɜrkˈhwaɪt/; June 14, 1904 -- August 27, 1971) was an American photographer and documentary photographer. She is best known as the first foreign photographer permitted to take pictures of Soviet industry, the first female war correspondent (and the first woman permitted to work in combat zones) and the first female photographer for Henry Luce's Life magazine, where her photograph appeared on the first cover She died of Parkinson's disease about eighteen years after she developed her first symptoms. In 1929, Bourke-White accepted a job as associate editor and staff photographer of Fortune magazine, a position she held until 1935. In 1930, she became the first Western photographer allowed to take photographs of Soviet industry.
She was hired by Henry Luce as the first female photojournalist for Life magazine in 1936. Her photograph of the Fort Peck Dam construction appeared on its first cover on November 23, 1936. She held the title of staff photographer until 1940, but returned from 1941 to 1942, and again in 1945, where she stayed through her semi-retirement in 1957 (which ended her photography for the magazine) and her full retirement in 1969.
Her photographs of the construction of the Fort Peck Dam were featured in Life's first issue, dated November 23, 1936, including the cover. This cover photograph became such a favorite that it was the 1930s' representative in the United States Postal Service's Celebrate the Century series of commemorative postage stamps. "Although Bourke-White titled the photo, New Deal, Montana: Fort Peck Dam, it is actually a photo of the spillway located three miles east of the dam," according to a United States Army Corps of Engineers web page.
During the mid-1930s, Bourke-White, like Dorothea Lange, photographed drought victims of the Dust Bowl. In the February 15, 1937 issue of Life magazine, her famous photograph of black flood victims standing in-front of a sign which declared, "World's Highest Standard of Living", showing a white family, was published. The photograph later would become the basis for the artwork of Curtis Mayfield's 1975 album, There's No Place Like America Today. Bourke-White was the first female war correspondent and the first woman to be allowed to work in combat zones during World War II. In 1941, she traveled to the Soviet Union just as Germany broke its pact of non-aggression. She was the only foreign photographer in Moscow when German forces invaded. Taking refuge in the U.S. Embassy, she then captured the ensuing firestorms on camera.
As the war progressed, she was attached to the U.S. Army Air Force in North Africa, then to the U.S. Army in Italy and later in Germany. She repeatedly came under fire in Italy in areas of fierce fighting.
"The woman who had been torpedoed in the Mediterranean, strafed by the Luftwaffe, stranded on an Arctic island, bombarded in Moscow, and pulled out of the Chesapeake when her chopper crashed, was known to the Life staff as 'Maggie the Indestructible.'" This incident in the Mediterranean refers to the sinking of the England-Africa bound British troopship SS Strathallan that she recorded in an article, "Women in Lifeboats", in Life, February 22, 1943.
In the spring of 1945, she traveled throughout a collapsing Germany with Gen. George S. Patton. She arrived at Buchenwald, the notorious concentration camp, and later said, "Using a camera was almost a relief. It interposed a slight barrier between myself and the horror in front of me." After the war, she produced a book entitled, Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly, a project that helped her come to grips with the brutality she had witnessed during and after the war.