NEWS11 Remembers: Jessie Tarbox Beals

ST. LOUIS, MO. (KPLR) – Some of the most famous images of the 1904 World’s Fair were taken by someone not very famous at all.  At least not anymore.  Paul Schankman has the story in this week’s NEWS11 remembers.

When she had been a very young woman had saved up whatever coupons she was collecting and she bought herself a very inexpensive camera.

And when she grew up, she became female photographer hired by a U.S. newspaper.  And while Jessie Tarbox Beals had a long a varied career in St. Louis, she is best remembered for her classic photographs of the 1904 Olympics and World’s Fair.

She had a very difficult time getting a press pass for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition because she was a woman and because fair officials dismissed her as a regional photographer and they were interested in national publicity.  But she was if anything persistent and finally she got a pass to go in an photograph the exposition while it was still under construction.

Beals would never become one of the fair’s official “photographers” but her images she recorded at the fair remain some of the most abiding.

Jessie was particularly interested in the human exhibits at the fair and so she took stunning images of people, tribes from the Philippines and tribes from the United States and other native peoples from around the world who were actually put on exhibit in the fair. And she took many sensitive and poignant portraits of many of those people and the villages they erected at the fair site.

We all here have a St. Louis centric view of the world so I think from our perspective her work at the 1904 World’s Fair was the pinnacle of her achievement. I don`t know what Jessie would have said.  She might have agreed but she led a long and productive life aside from the world`s fair.

After the fair, Jessie Tarbox Beals moved to New York City, divorced her husband, who had done all of photo developing and opened her own studio.  Where she made portraits of some very famous people including Mark Twain and Teddy Roosevelt’ whom she had first photographed during his visit to the 1904 World’s Fair.

NEWS11 remembers is brought to you by the Missouri History Museum and America’s best contacts and eyeglasses.  I’m Paul Schankman.

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