fb-pixel Skip to main content

Though Georgia Litwack started out as a writer, the economic reality of her early freelancing led her to bring a camera along to assignments.

“Every time I did a story on speculation I had to hire a photographer,” she told the Globe in 2003, “and I had to pay whether the story sold or not.”

Her photography soon earned places in museums, publications, and gallery exhibitions, even as she continued to write extensive profiles of accomplished women.

Mrs. Litwack, whose best-known work includes a more-than-two-decade-long project photographing leading women in the arts and sciences, died May 10 at her home in Falls of Cordingly Dam in Newton of complications from COVID-19.

Advertisement



At 98, she was at work on projects including preparing for a potential new exhibition and making plans for a book about Jessie Tarbox Beals, a pioneering woman in American photography. Mrs. Litwack was diagnosed nine days before she died.

“She was a vital, vibrant person full of life, doing her work, and then this happened,” her daughter Deborah said. “Even though she was at an advanced age, death was not expected.”

A collection of Mrs. Litwack’s portraits of women is housed at the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library. Her work also is part of the collections at the deCordova Sculpture Park Museum in Lincoln, where she founded its photography program, and at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which has in its holdings her portrait of arts educator Elma Lewis.

To best decide what made for the right setting, Mrs. Litwack would interview photography subjects twice. She called her photos “environmental portraits,” and hoped they would do more than just draw viewers to exhibitions, such as her 2003 show at the Kniznick Gallery in the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.

Advertisement



“Many of these women spoke quite candidly of how hard they had to work to get into their field and be successful,” she told the Globe then, adding that she wanted her photos to inspire younger women in particular.

“I wanted to give women an example of the work these women do in medicine, science, and engineering,” Mrs. Litwack said. “They’re daunting fields, and this might encourage women to put their toe in.”

Scientist Mildred Dresselhaus, taken by Georgia Litwack.
Scientist Mildred Dresselhaus, taken by Georgia Litwack. Georgia Litwack./The Boston Globe - The Boston Gl

The Georgia Litwack Collection at the Schlesinger Library included portraits of about 40 notable women, among them scientists such as Mildred Dresselhaus, who had been a professor of physics and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Doriot Anthony Dwyer, the flutist who was the first woman to serve as a principal player in the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

“One must view her work to understand exactly how her photographs communicate,” Globe critic Gilbert Friedberg wrote about “Nature as Symbol,” Mrs. Litwack’s 1969 exhibition in Lexington.

“Her pictures range over many themes and images,” Friedberg added of those photos, which were portraits of rocks and flowers, water and sky. “She puts her art into many expressions.”

Mrs. Litwack published her work in the Globe as well. Sometimes her photos accompanied articles by other writers, and she also was the photographer for Globe profiles she wrote about women.

With her journalism background and her expansive intellect, she was as comfortable questioning anthropologist and primatologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy about the discipline of sociobiology as she was speaking with Dwyer about orchestral works and her pastime of hiking in challenging mountain ranges.

Advertisement



“She was fascinated by science,” her daughter said. “But I think she really felt in her heart of hearts that she was held back by being a woman. So she was drawn to women of great achievements.”

Georgia Shuset was born in Pittsburgh on Jan. 27, 1922, the only child of Jacob W. Shuset and Rose Katz. Her father ran a wholesale candy business at which his wife and daughter also worked.

“She often mentioned that she was a latchkey kid before they had that word,” Mrs. Litwack’s daughter Deborah said. “She would come home from school and make herself a bowl of soup.”

Mrs. Litwack’s parents were hardworking immigrants from Eastern Europe, building a life in a manufacturing city.

“Pittsburgh, she always said, was ‘a hick town.’ It was a coal town,” her daughter recalled. “They would wake up in the morning and would have to take the coal dust off their faces.”

The family’s home was “a house with no books,” Deborah said, and yet her mother “pursued a life of the mind. She was always a fiercely independent woman who knew her own mind. She truly was an intellectual.”

Mrs. Litwack graduated in 1942 from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in English and history and a minor in journalism, and then was hired as a staff writer for the United Press wire service, which stationed her in Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Albany, N.Y.

Advertisement



While covering a court case in Buffalo she met John Litwack, who was then an attorney for the US Justice Department. As the family story goes, Deborah said, “he saw her across the room and said, ‘Who’s that good-looking gal?’ ”

They married in 1945. He had been born in Chelsea, and educated at Harvard College and Harvard Law School. They eventually moved back to New England and settled in Newton, where they raised their daughters Deborah, of Philadelphia, and Helen, who lives in Newton.

They are Mrs. Litwack’s only immediate survivors. Her husband died in 2010.

In Newton, she turned her attention toward photography and “set up a darkroom in what was the laundry room,” Deborah said.

Even though Mrs. Litwack continued writing, while in her mid-40s she talked her way into studying with renowned photographer Minor White — first in his workshops, and later in graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She also worked in public relations at the Children’s Museum and Museum of Science in Boston, and went on to conduct her own photography workshops.

At the deCordova, she created the photography program and taught classes at all levels for adults and children. Mrs. Litwack later taught seminars at Radcliffe in the history and practice of photography, and lectured extensively throughout Greater Boston.

With Dr. Mary Ellen Avery, a National Medal of Science recipient, she coauthored the 1983 book “Born Early: The Story of a Premature Baby,” which featured Mrs. Litwack’s photos of the early months of life of a girl who had been born 14 weeks premature.

Advertisement



“This photo essay is of devout purpose,” Globe critic Kelly Wise wrote in 1983 when those photos were exhibited at the Museum of Science.

Mrs. Litwack’s work was exhibited in numerous solo and group shows throughout Massachusetts and elsewhere, including New York State and Chicago. Her profiles of women such as Avery and poet Maxine Kumin appeared in publications including Harvard Magazine.

“As an artist,” her daughter Deborah said, “I think she was most proud of her profiles and her ability to get people to speak to her about their true lives.”

A memorial gathering for Mrs. Litwack will be announced.

“She wanted to contribute to the world, and I think she did,” Deborah said.

“I think the word that describes her is determined. She was an amazing person and a determined woman,” she added. “She was very hard-working and she never gave up. That’s my mother.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.