In May 1910, Frances Benjamin Johnston photographed one of Washington’s grandest homes, Anderson House, which had taken its place on Massachusetts Avenue five years earlier. Johnston would become one of the first American women to achieve distinction as a photographer. Her photographs of Anderson House—which had never been exhibited or published together until this exhibition—reveal both the photographer’s techniques and the original appearance of the historic house, offering a glimpse of how the Andersons lived in the mansion.

In all her work, Johnston strived to create “picturesque effects,” which required “good taste, a quick eye, a talent for detail, and a genius for hard work,” as she described in an 1897 article for Ladies Home Journal. Her sixty-year career encompassed photojournalism, portraiture, architectural and landscape photography, and projects furthering social causes. From the 1880s into the 1910s, she maintained her home and studio on V Street, Northwest, in Washington, D.C. Johnston’s landmark photographs of African American students at Virginia’s Hampton Institute (1900) and her survey of colonial American structures in the South (1926) are among her most important works.

Johnston’s photographs of Anderson House, like her work in other private residences, highlight architectural details, the use of natural light, and the context of a building. She also sought to capture a sense of the personalities who occupied the spaces. Johnston, after all, saw a house as an extension of its owners, as she expressed in a 1937 lecture: “When you build a house, you make a record of yourself, and experts in houses can tell by the house you build and live in what kind of person you are …. The story of houses is the story of the people that made them.”

This exhibition displayed twenty-five gelatin silver prints drawn from a larger collection of ninety-seven photographs of Anderson House taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, which the Society of the Cincinnati purchased for its library collections in 1977. Explore the full collection on our Digital Library.