Margaret began college at the Columbia University and wanted to specialize in herpetology, study of reptiles. But due to her father’s death, financial problems occur which also lead her to switch universities several times. Margaret moved to the University of Michigan and majored in zoology. She began taking pictures of the yearbook and was offered the position of photography editor; but Margaret refused the offer and went to Purdue University after she met and married Everett Chapman in 1924, an engineering student at the University of Michigan. They moved to Cleveland where Chapman found a new job while Margaret worked at the Natural History Museum. Two years later, the couple got divorced and Margaret received a bachelor’s degree in biology at Cornell University in 1927.
Margaret found work in the field of industrial photography. Her photos of steel furnaces and assembly line gained reputation and appeared in the Fortune Magazine. Fortune made her a part-timer and a freelancer for advertising agencies which had made her earned $50,000/year and become one of the most famous photojournalist in America (Cook, 170).
Margaret’s subject of interest in photography had changed when Fortune sent her to the Dust Bowl states during the Great Depression in 1934. She became interested with people and their social problems after four months of photographing people whose lands dried up and blown away.
Margaret was also sent to the Soviet Union to photograph some of the first images Americans had ever seen of Soviet Union. In 1935, she photographed and began documenting public works and projects of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Margaret pioneered the photo issue for Life Magazine in 1936 and hit the stands.
Margaret teamed up and married novelist Erskine Caldwell on the You Have Seen Their Faces, a book about the tragedy of sharecroppers in the South. But after their marriage in 1939, they got divorced and Margaret never would have married again.