She was one of three children born to Joseph and Minnie. The family lived in Bound Brook, New Jersey. Margaret, her brother, Roger, and sister, Ruth, went to school locally. Margaret was the editor of the high school year book. After attending several universities (Columbia, Michigan, Western Reserve University, Cornell, Purdue) she received her degree from Cornell in 1927.
She took up photography as a hobby but after graduating and moving to New York City she began to work in the field as a professional freelance photographer.
She combined her own last name with her mother’s maiden name (Bourke) to create her hyphenated professional name. Beginning her career in 1927 as an industrial and architectural photographer, she soon gained a reputation for originality, and in 1929 the publisher Henry Luce hired her for his new Fortune magazine. [Britannica.com]
She went to German on assignment for Fortune to shoot the Krupp Iron Works in 1930. That done she continued her journey (on her own) to the Soviet Union where she was “the first photographer to seriously document its rapid industrial development. She published her work in the book Eyes on Russia (1931).” [Notablebiographies.com] In 1936 she became a staff photographer for a new magazine called LIFE.
As America sank into the economic Depression of the 1930 Bourke-White turned her camera toward those suffering in the Dust Bowl or waiting in bread lines.
During World War II she became the first female war correspondent to work in a combat zone. The transport she was taking across to North Africa was struck by a U-boat’s torpedo and sunk, but she survived. She covered the Allies in Italy, the Siege of Moscow, Patton’s march across the Rhine into Germany, and the liberation of Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
These projects also introduced people and social issues as subject matter into her oeuvre, and she developed a compassionate, humanitarian approach to such photos. In 1935 Bourke-White met the Southern novelist Erskine Caldwell, to whom she was married from 1939 to 1942. The couple collaborated on three illustrated books: You Have Seen Their Faces (1937), about Southern sharecroppers; North of the Danube (1939), about life inCzechoslovakia before the Nazi takeover; and Say, Is This the U.S.A. (1941), about the industrialization of the United States. [Britannica.com]
After the War she covered the independence and partition of India and Pakistan. In 1949 and 1950 she covered apartheid in South Africa. In 1952 she went to Korea, again working as a war correspondent.
Shortly after her return from Korea she noticed signs of Parkinson’s disease, the nerve disorder which she battled for the remainder of her life. …White died at her home in Darien, Connecticut. She left behind a legacy as a determined woman, an innovative visual artist, and a compassionate human observer. [Notablebiographies.com]
Here’s a mini documentary on her life….