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Seeing America explores the camera work of five women who directed their visions toward influencing social policy and cultural theory. Taken together, they visually articulated the essential ideas occupying the American consciousness in the years between the world wars.

Melissa McEuen examines the work of Doris Ulmann, who made portraits of celebrated artists in urban areas and lesser-known craftspeople in rural places; Dorothea Lange, who magnified human dignity in the midst of poverty and unemployment; Marion Post Wolcott, a steadfast believer in collective strength as the antidote to social ills and the best defense against future challenges; Margaret Bourke-White, who applied avant-garde advertising techniques in her exploration of the human condition; and Berenice Abbott, a devoted observer of the continuous motion and chaotic energy that characterized the modern cityscape.

Combining feminist biography with analysis of visual texts, McEuen considers the various prisms though which each woman saw and revealed America. Their documentary photographs were the result of personal visions that had been formed by experiences and emotions as well as by careful calculations and technological processes. These photographers captured the astounding variety of occupations, values, and leisure activities that shaped the nation, and their photographs illuminate the intricate workings of American culture in the 1920s and 1930s.

Winner of the 1999 Emily Toth Award for the best feminist study of popular culture given by the Women’s Caucus of the Popular Culture Association

Melissa McEuen is an assistant professor of history at Transylvania University.

"Each short biographical study of these artists and their professional habits charts the evolution of socially conscious photography."—Arkansas Review

"A treasury of information and analysis. . . . A rich resource for anyone interested in the history of photography, women's history, and American history in general."—Bloomsbury Review

"The quality in this study rests in McEuen’s ability to synthesize individual creativity with a description of the period, and how these women’s photography played a role in so many aspects of it."—Choice

"A valiant, well-researched effort to bridge the history of visual culture with American social and political history."—Journal of American History

"Gives credit to the women who had the unique ability to capture the unfailing human spirit in their images."—Kentucky Monthly

"Profiles five female photographers, their work, their motivations and their reflection of America."—Lexington Herald-Leader

"The best books always leave their audience wanting more. That is certainly true of this gem of a work."—Library Journal (starred review)

"Succeeds in conveying to the reader the remarkable intellectual curiosity and wherewithal of these women, as evidenced by the vibrancy and variety of the their work."—Magill Book Reviews

"McEuen has contributed an impressively-researched, well-written, and engaging volume, rich in contextual details and appealing to specialists and general readers alike."—NWSA Journal

"Illuminates both the work and the personalities of the artists—as well as the difficulties of being a woman photographer at the time."—Ohioana Quarterly

"Opens a window on American culture between the world wars."—Publishers Weekly

"McEuen looks beyond the image, in this case photographs, to understand who fashioned the image and why."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Women photographers, Photography, Documentary photography


Women's Studies

Seeing America: Women Photographers between the Wars
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