ST. PAUL (AP) -- Marion Carpenter broke ground as one of the first female White House photographers. But she died alone and destitute.
The 82-year-old's body was found Oct. 29, on the couch where she had bundled herself tightly against the chill. She had lowered the thermostat to save money.
Carpenter died of natural causes. But almost a month later, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Sunday, her body is still stored by the Ramsey County medical examiner while friends and acquaintances -- most of whom met Carpenter at garage sales or thrift shops -- try to find a relative and plan a fitting service.
"She's been on ice for over three weeks," says Connie Marsh, a friend. "We can't really do anything until we get permission from the next of kin."
Carpenter was one of the first women in the White House News Photographers' Association (the group's Web site misspells her name as Maria). She was the only woman among a handful of photographers who traveled with the president and covered him daily.
She studied photography in St. Paul in the early 1940s, when she was in her early 20s. She went to Washington when she was about 24 and got a job with the Times-Herald before switching to the International News Photos syndicate and winning the White House job. Over the next five or six years, she became a favorite of President Truman.
"She sounds like the type of woman upon whose shoulders we all stand," said Susy Shultz, president of the Journalism and Women Symposium. "It's sad that we don't know about a Marion Carpenter. The women who came along in the '30s, '40s and '50s had it the hardest. They were the women breaking paths."
Carpenter didn't take kindly to condescension from men. When columnist for the old Washington Times-Herald accused her in print of using her feminine charms to persuade politicians to pose, she got even by drenching him with a big bowl of navy bean soup and making sure another photographer was on hand to get the picture. The columnist was named Tris Coffin. One headline the next day was a natural: "CARPENTER NAILS COFFIN."
Even when she climbed a ladder to the top of the Capitol dome to take a picture from almost 300 feet up -- in a skirt -- newsmen found it hard to be nice. A front-page photo of her, high on the ladder, was captioned: "This picture ought to prove you never can tell what a woman photographer will do next."
How her life unraveled is a book with a lot of missing pages, the Pioneer Press said.
"This is a story and a half," said Beverly Allstopp of Burnsville. "But we've all just got pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Marion was a very private person, and she kept a lot of things from everybody."
Allstopp met Carpenter at a thrift store. Carpenter loved to hang out there, sitting on used furniture.
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