Elizabeth Grant Cranbrook Menzies, “Betty” Menzies Princeton’s First Official Woman Photographer


Betty Menzies in the darkroom in the basement of her home at 926 Kingston Road. One of the images unwanted by Princeton University because it was taken off campus.
Betty Menzies in the darkroom in the basement of her home at 926 Kingston Road. One of the images taken off-campus.
Self-portrait Betty Menzies of Her Face in the Mirror
Self-portrait Betty Menzies of Her Face in the Mirror, another image taken off-campus.

Dated June 10, 1980, President Bowen’s autograph letter included two commencement tickets to Betty: “Dear Betty, So often we have used your photographs as a way of expressing appreciation to people associated with Princeton. Now it is time to say ‘Thank You’ to you – for 26 years of outstanding service. And we thought we should find a different kind of memento! Please know that we shall continue to enjoy the results of your work through your beautiful books and photographs. – With best wishes – Bill Bowen.”  

Elizabeth Grant Cranbrook Menzies, photographer-historian was born in Princeton, New Jersey to Princeton University professor, Alan Wilfrid Cranbrook Menzies and Mary Isabella Dickson Menzies in 1915 and died there in 2003. Growing up in Princeton the only child of a Scottish-born physical chemist and a Scottish mother, who was a gifted pianist, artist and, also, an amateur photographer, Miss Menzies had an early formative exposure to both scientific and artistic methods. Following her parents’ wishes, she graduated from Miss Fine’s School in Princeton, Miss Menzies began taking pictures of her family’s friends as a teenager, among these early images are such notables as the Oswald Veblens and the C. J. Davissons. Having been taught the basics of taking and developing photographs by her chemist father, Miss Menzies began a love affair with the camera that was to last for more than sixty years.

In 1936, at the age of 21, she won a First Award and two Second Awards at the Fourth Annual Exhibition at Princeton for her celebrated portrait Albert Einstein in His Study 1939. This image was taken for Scientific American in commemoration of Einstein’s sixtieth birthday. C. J. Davisson, a fellow Nobel laureate and friend of both the sitter and the photographer was instrumental in persuading the camera-shy Einstein to allow his picture to be taken. It also launched Miss Menzies’ career as a free-lance photographer. On May 21, 1963, Miss Menzies was awarded a Tercentenary Medal for this portrait by the State of New Jersey. In 1949, Miss Menzies was one of seven exhibitors at the Philadelphia Salon of Photography, exhibiting The Sunset of Life. While working in Princeton in the 1940s and 50s as a free-lance photographer, contributing many images to the Princeton Alumni Weekly, she was hired by the Index of Christian Art as their staff photographer, a position that took her on trips abroad, collecting images for the Index archive.

During those years, Miss Menzies began quite spontaneously keeping a photographic record of the early American architecture in Princeton and elsewhere in New Jersey, especially as the historic buildings began to fall to the developer’s wrecking ball. Having taken her first architectural images as early as 1935, this was a natural progression in her development as a photographer. Later, when architectural history became a determined interest, she came under the tutelage of Princeton Professor Donal Drew Egbert, Professor of the History of Architecture at Princeton University. Attending his lectures by permission, in preparation for her first book, Princeton Architecture, a Pictorial History of Town and Campus, Princeton University Press, 1967, Miss Menzies received the Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History in 1968 for this, her first book. Miss Menzies other books are: Millstone Valley, Rutgers University Press, 1968, for which she earned a Certificate of Commendation from the American Association for State and Local History in 1970, and for which she also received the New Jersey Association of Teachers of English Award in 1970; Passage Between Rivers, Rutgers University Press, 1976, which earned her the Author Citation from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 1978; and, perhaps her most out-spoken title, Before the Waters, the Upper Delaware Valley, Rutgers University Press, 1966, made very clear her preservationist views. In 1971, Miss Menzies received a Diploma from The Two Thousand Women of Achievement for Distinguished Achievement. In 1966, on the deaths of both of her parents, Miss Menzies stopped working for the Princeton Alumni Weekly. From 1954 to 1980, she was the staff photographer for the Index of Christian Art at Princeton University.

See: Who’s Who of American Women with World Notables, Sixth edition, 1970-71, and the World Who’s Who of Women 1973. Her photographs have appeared in national publications. Among the publications publishing her photographers were: Life, May 19, 1958, Vol. 44, No. 20, “Sammy”; The Saturday Evening Post, May 17, 1958, Vol. 230, No. 46, “Francis Henry Taylor”; Architectural Record, May 1958; Fortune, 1958, “Prof. Tukey”; The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Today,” April 1956; Holiday, July, 1950; Time, August 1948, “New Library.” Upon retirement from Princeton University in 1980, then-president William Bowen awarded Miss Menzies with the Seal of Princeton University Medal.

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