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James Keen Photographic Collection

Identifier: MS-450

Scope and Content

The James N. Keen collection consists of black and white negatives and photographs ranging from 1939 to 1945. It is arranged into eleven series. The bulk of the collection consists of images of Dayton, OH and the surrounding region. They include pictures of local businesses, schools, and the military. These photographs were most likely taken to accompany newspaper stories.

Series I, Business, consists of images of specific businesses, such as Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (Delco), National Cash Register (NCR) and Rike's Department Store, workers' strikes, and more genetic images of people in various occupations and industries. Images include local companies being awarded the Army-Navy "E" Award for excellence in production of war equipment.

Series II, Community Organizations, includes images of the Boy Scouts of America, the YMCA/YWCA, Community Chest (now known locally as the United Way), and the Red Cross. These are images of events that these organizations held and people who worked for and may have been helped by these charitable organizations.

Series III, Schools, is comprised of images of high schools, such as Fairview and Stivers, colleges, including the University of Dayton and the Ohio State University, as well as specialized education for the deaf and blind. The images include sports, graduations, and campus life. The bulk of the series are images from Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio that merged with Miami University in 1974. Series IV, Sports and Outdoor Activities, consists of non-collegiate sports, including the Dayton PGA tournament, and other activities such as hunting and fishing.

Series V, People, consists of photographs of individuals, families and children. This series includes several images of Charles Kettering.

Series VI, Military, is comprised of images of soldiers and aircraft. The bulk of this series is made up of pictures of Wright Field and Patterson Field, prior to their merger. It includes images of soldiers on base, events for the troops and soldiers' wives.

Series VII, News, consists of Dayton Journal-Herald images, as well as photographs that were most likely shot to accompany lifestyle stories, such as weddings and deaths, accidents and disasters, and entertainment news. Series VIII, Cities, includes images of Dayton, Ohio and nearby cities and towns, including New Carlisle and West Carrolton.

Series IX, Animals and Nature, is comprised of photographs of primarily domesticated animals, such as dogs and rabbits, and natural features, such as clouds, snow, and foliage. Series X, Other Images, consists of miscellaneous images from Florida and some unidentified photographs of people, gatherings and items.

Series XI, Photographs, is comprised of numerous black and white photographs, including photographs of Wright and Patterson Fields, rallies in support of the United States military, worker strikes, and other various images of science and industry.


  • Creation: 1933 - 1946
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1941 - 1945


Restrictions on Access

There are no restrictions on accessing material in this collection. Digitization of this collection is in process for preservation. For negatives listed in Boxes 1-2, please use Reference Copies available in Box 17B instead of the originals.

Restrictions on Use

Copyright restrictions may apply. Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. Permission to publish, quote or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.

Biography of James N. Keen

James N. Keen was a photographer for a number of newspapers, including the Dayton Journal-Herald, Chattanooga News, Associated Press, Louisville Courier-Journal and Louisville Times. His work appeared in national publications such as Life and U.S. Camera Annual. His subjects included high-profile individuals, such as Orville Wright and Charles Kettering.

James Nicholas Keen was born December 10, 1910, near Huntsville, Tennessee, to Willard and Esther (Walton) Keen. He attended the University of Tennessee. From about 1931 to 1936, Keen was the chief photographer for the Chattanooga News. He was a photographer with the Associated Press in Atlanta for about 2 years from 1936-1937. One of his photographs of refugees at Memphis during the disastrous 1937 flood - titled "Madonna of the Flood" - appeared on the cover of "Life" Magazine (February 8, 1937).

James N. Keen became a Dayton Journal-Herald staff photographer in 1937 and remained with the newspaper until 1946. He captured countless photos of Dayton life and work during this pivotal World War II era, including many photos of military activities at Wright Field and Patterson Field. (In addition to this collection, examples of Keen's work as a Dayton newspaper photographer can also be found throughout MS-458, the Dayton Daily News Archive.)

After leaving the Dayton Journal-Herald, Keen briefly served as chief photographer for the state of Florida, before settling down in Louisville, Kentucky, where he worked for 26 years as a photographer for the local newspapers Louisville Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times. (A large collection of Keen's work as a news photographer in Louisville is archived at the University of Louisville.)

Keen won numerous awards for his photography skills, including the national TWA aviation writers' and photographers' competition; Encyclopedia Britannica National Book of the Year contest; Red Cross photo contest; the World Atlas contest; National Graflex corporation photo contest; Ohio Associated Press Photographers contest; and the National Associated Press Photographers contest. His work has been exhibited in multiple cities, including the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts in New York.

In November 1934, James N. Keen married Ruth Acree (1910-1994), and they had daughters Louise Keen (1939-1954) and Marilyn Keen Moore Young (1948-).

In addition to photography, Keen enjoyed the cultivation of wildflowers and tropical plants, as well as swimming.

James Keen died on August 10, 1984, in Louisville, Kentucky.


13 linear feet

Language of Materials



James Keen was a newspaper photographer for a number of newspapers throughout the country, including the Dayton Journal-Herald. This collection consists of approximately 9,300 black and white negatives and black and white photographs. These photographs were taken from 1937 to 1946 in and around the Miami Valley, including Dayton, Wright and Patterson Fields and other nearby Ohio areas. As a newspaper photographer, many of these photographs were taken to accompany news in the Dayton Journal Herald.

Statement of Arrangement

This collection is arranged into 11 series:

  1. Series I: Business
  2. Series II: Community Organizations
  3. Series III: Schools
  4. Series IV: Sports and Outdoor Activities
  5. Series V: People
  6. Series VI: Military
  7. Series VII: News
  8. Series VIII: Cities
  9. Series IX: Animals and Nature
  10. Series X: Other Images
  11. Series XI: Photographs

Technical Requirements

This collection is comprised primarily of black and white film negative which will require a light box for viewing.

Acquisition Information

The materials were donated by the University of Louisville Special Collections in 2011.

Related Material

MS-458, Dayton Daily News Archives

James N. Keen Photograph Collection, University of Louisville, University Libraries

Guide to the James Keen Photographic Collection (MS-450)
Finding aid prepared by Elizabeth Stanze, June 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

Wright State University Libraries
Special Collections and Archives
3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy
Dayton OH 45435-0001 USA