The president and the photographer

(Photo courtesy of Margaret Bourke-White Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries © Estate of Margaret Bourke-White/Licensed by VAGA, New York, New York)

When the now legendary news photographer Margaret Bourke-White was a student at the University of Michigan, her love of snakes led her to the university’s Museum of Zoology and its director, Professor Alexander Ruthven, who would later become the university’s seventh president. After a few weeks, Ruthven realized she “was not the kind of clay that could be molded into a successful herpetologist,” and he asked her what she really wanted to be. She answered, “a photographer,” and he directed her to the museum’s darkroom. These moments sparked a friendship between the two that would last for nearly 50 years. They followed each other’s careers, mentioned each other in their autobiographies and confided in one another as Bourke-White combatted Parkinson’s disease and Ruthven struggled with what his doctor called a “familial palsy.” Ironically, despite the deep friendship between the two, there is no known photograph of Ruthven and Bourke-White together.

— Adapted from “Our Linked Lives,” by Kim Clarke, U-M Heritage Project



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