Calhoun School Album

Frances Benjamin Johnson (attributed), Class in Manual Drawing, ca. 1902

Frances Benjamin Johnson (attributed), Class at Work, ca. 1902

Frances Benjamin Johnson (attributed), Lesson in the laundry, ca. 1902

Frances Benjamin Johnson (attributed), Cooking Lesson, ca. 1902

This selection of photographs is from a series taken at the Calhoun School, founded by Mabel Wilhelmina Dillingham (1861–1894) and Charlotte Rogers Thorn (1857–1932) in 1892 to provide basic educational and vocational training to black children living in Lowndes County, Alabama. Modeled after the Hampton Institute in Virginia, Calhoun also benefited adults in the community-it offered adult education classes and created a land bank to help sharecroppers buy land. In the photographs, Calhoun’s students are engaged in learning practical skills and studying in the classroom; other photographs in the album include an outdoor demonstration of cattle scoring and various buildings that belonged to the school.

The photographs are attributed to Frances Benjamin Johnston due to their similarity to her noted photographs from Hampton Institute, but also to others commissioned by Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee in 1902 and 1906. Prior to photographing at these two institutions, Johnston was already a prominent photographer in Washington D.C., where she became well known for her documentary photography, architectural views, and portraits of politicians. The photographs in this album were probably taken in 1902 when Washington commissioned views of some of the smaller African American schools in Alabama that followed the Tuskegee model: Snow Hill Institute, Mount Meigs Institute, and the Ramer Colored Industrial School.

The initials “CRT” following one of the inscriptions in this album suggest that it belonged to Charlotte Thorn. A set of prints identical to those in this album, but mounted, is in the Social Museum Collection at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University.

African American Vernacular Photography: Selections from the Daniel Cowin Collection, edited by Brian Wallis and Deborah Willis (Göttingen: Steidl and New York: ICP, 2005), p. 122

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