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American Women: Resources from the Prints & Photographs Collections

Toni Frissell Collection

Toni Frissell, photographer. Woman wearing tennis outfit, seated on wall, with one leg on top of wall, looking at the mountains behind her. 1947. Toni Frissell Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Toni Frissell (1907-1988) began her career as a photojournalist and fashion photographer about the time Frances Benjamin Johnston's was winding down. She demonstrated a versatility equal to Johnston's in her work as a staff photographer for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and Sports Illustrated and in her publication of several photographically illustrated books, ranging from A Child's Garden of Verses (1944) to The King Ranch, 1939-1944 (1975).

Frissell is perhaps best known for her pioneering fashion photography and her informal portraits of the famous and powerful in the United States and Europe, including Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, and John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy. She is noted for taking fashion photography out of the studio into the outdoors, thus placing an accent on the active woman. She is also known for the imaginative angles, both physical and metaphorical, from which she covered her subjects.

Scope of the Collection

The Toni Frissell Collection (340,000 items, ca. 1930-69) includes 270,000 black-and-white negatives, 42,000 color transparencies, and 25,000 enlargement prints, as well as proof sheets. Frissell's own selection of about 1,800 of her best and most representative photographs have been processed for ready viewing (LOT 12452) and provide a substantial representation of Frissell's chief interests:

  • children
  • fashion
  • families
  • leisure activities such as eating and drinking
  • members of American and British upper classes
  • well-known personalities
  • sports

Other groups of images include a substantial portion of Frissell's documentation of World War II military and civilian activities, both in the United States and abroad. Frissell focused in particular on women's contributions during the war, including their Red Cross activities and a 1943 visit by Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) director Oveta Culp Hobby to two WAAC facilities.

Frissell documented women from all walks of life and in all situations, sometimes using them to comment on the human condition. Thus, in the single year of 1957, her work ranged from: her quiet portrayal of an elderly African American woman enjoying a barefoot moment fishing in the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. (LC-F9-02-5706-053-06), to an intimate portrait of actress Elizabeth Taylor with her husband Mike Todd and their infant daughter (LC-F9-52-5709-52A-26); and from a lyrical depiction of two nuns clamming on Long Island (LC-F9-04-5709-012-17) to members of the White family seen in silhouette dressed for morning tennis (LC-F9-04-5707-035-09).

Frissell's personal papers are available in the Manuscript Division

Searching the Collection

Some of Toni Frissell's photographs have been cataloged and digitized and can be searched in the online catalog by including her name in the search.

A representative range of Frissell's images selected by Frissell's daughter, Sidney Frissell Stafford, have been published in Toni Frissell: Photographs: 1933-1967 (New York: Doubleday in Association with the Library of Congress, 1994). Reproduction numbers for the images included in the book appear at the end. (It is best to check with Prints & Photographs Division reference staff before ordering, as adjustments have been made to some of the reproduction numbers.)

To look for other images in the collection, on-site researchers can:

  • search for Toni Frissell in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog in the category Groups of Images in order to locate descriptions of images grouped by subject into LOTs
  • submit a call slip to have desired LOTs retrieved
  • for material not yet processed for ready service, inquire of reference staff.

Sample Images