(WOMENSENEWS)– Josephine Ursula Herrick’s passion for photography and public service enhanced the lives of more than 100,000 Americans in 30 states during her lifetime. The nonprofit she founded 73 years ago, recently renamed in her honor, continues to do her good work.
But what lead her to create this organization? What happened to her photographs? Why is she missing from the history books? In truth, she haunts me. As long as her personal journey through photography is missing, she will remain with the ghosts of thousands of other women who gave their lives to help the underserved.
Clarence H. White, one of many prominent photographers who worked to elevate photography to the status of a fine art, was Herrick’s mentor. Unlike most other mid-century photographers, White encouraged women to become working photographers at a time when most women were expected to stay home and raise children.
In the late 1940s, Herrick and Princes de Braganza became partners in a portrait studio in Manhattan. There, for nearly 20 years, they photographed children and debutantes. But with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Herrick left that sheltered world. She organized 35 of her friends to join her in New York City canteens, the eating places of young men going off to war. They photographed more than 900 men and the images were printed and sent with hand-written notes to their loved ones in an effort to keep families connected.
Later, Herrick became one of the "atomic girls," documenting the making of the bomb in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and in 1944 she worked with Dr. Howard Rusk on a holistic approach to healing, by providing photography programs for wounded soldiers. These free programs continue today in partnerships with schools, hospitals, libraries, social service agencies and other like-minded nonprofits, giving the gift of visual literacy in an effort to connect underserved communities to the world.
On Saturday, Sept. 20 at the New York Public Library at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, research librarian Philip Sutton will lead volunteers in a search of New York City archives for the forgotten trophies of Herrick’s life as a photographer, feminist and activist.
In a recent search, Princeton University archivists discovered six of Herrick’s photos in White’s archives.
White (1875 – 1925) and Herrick both came to New York from the Midwest. He opened his school in 1914 and became a magnet for pioneers of modernist and documentary photography, including Margaret Bourke-White, Paul Outerbridge, Dorothea Lange and Anton Bruehl.
Noting White’s strongly progressive ideals, Bonnie Yochelson, Clarence White scholar and art historian at the School of Visual Arts, writes, "it would be a significant contribution to White’s legacy to better understand her life’s story and her own photography."
Herrick continues as a role model for students. She understood not only the healing power of art but the simple truth that helping others makes humans feel good. She understood visual literacy and how photographs tell stories and can contribute to the social good. She worked tirelessly training photographers, developing partnerships and raising money to promote social justice.
A few of the long-time supporters and storytellers during Herrick’s lifetime included Bourke-White, Ansel Adams, Joanna and Edward Steichen, Cornell Capa, Irving Penn, Andre Kertesz, Joseph Harsh, Dr. Howard Rusk, Mayor Wagner, Mary Hemingway, Walter Cronkite, photo journalist Bert Keppler, TV host Jinx Falkenberg, CBS-TV weatherman Joe Witte, New York Times photo editor Jacob Deschin, NBC host Virginia Graham, Edward FitzGerald of the radio program "Ed and Pegeen" and actors Celeste Holm, Eydie Gorme and Joan Bennett.
Today’s beneficiaries of the Josephine Herrick Project include participants who are legally blind; veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder; autistic-spectrum students who use the camera lens to help focus their world; the elderly who never had the opportunity to use a camera; people with disabilities; formerly incarcerated; English Language learners; mentally and emotionally challenged children; youth at-risk; and those who are wheelchair bound.
Herrick’s is an American story yet to be fully told. But we are beginning.