Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Philanthropy, Social Services, Human Rights > 82. Jessie Tarbox Beals

82.  Jessie Tarbox Beals (1870-1942).  Photograph of slum children, ca. 1918-19. Photograph #1900. RBML, Community Service Society Papers

Jessie Tarbox was born in 1870 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Her family's comfortable lifestyle allowed her, at the age of 14, to attend the prestigious Collegiate Institute of Ontario. Her first photographs were of the children in her classroom in 1888. By 1900 The County Reformer newspaper published Jessie's photographs of a carnival, making her the world's first female photojournalist. Her superb work led her to become one of the official photographers of the St. Louis World's Fair. In 1905 she moved to New York City where with her husband, Alfred Beals, she ran a successful studio until her death in 1942.

During this time, she took many photographs for the Community Service Society, an organization that, through its predecessor organizations, the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor and the Charity Organization Society, has tackled the problem of urban poverty for 150 years. They were responsible for the first public baths in New York City in 1852, the first model tenement in 1855, the first shelter for homeless men in 1893, a prototype of the free lunch program in 1913, and the ground-work for New York State's Old Age Assistance Act of 1930. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library was designated as the repository of the CSS papers in 1979, comprising to date some 300 linear feet of material, including hundreds of photographs.

Gift of the Community Service Society, 1979 and ongoing

Columbia University Libraries / Butler Library / 535 West 114th St. / New York, NY 10027 / (212) 854-7309 /