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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, April 26, 2010
Head-to-Toe Fashion Sense
Posted by Maureen

Pamela Fisher sent in this gorgeous photo of a confident and determined young woman. Her direct gaze shows she's comfortable in front of the camera. The question is, of course, who is she?



Pamela owns an old book that had a small collection of photos stuck in the pages. The book and the photos belonged to the Fisher family. Since the provenance (history of ownership) of the items suggested young woman was a member of the Fisher family, Pamela thought this would be an easy ID. She thought it must be Rilla Cooper (b. 1860)who married into the Fisher family and that the photo was taken in Spokane, Wash., circa 1880.  Rilla is a mysterious ancestor her family doesn't know much about.

Unfortunately, this identification is incorrect. As soon as I saw the image, I knew it wasn't taken in the 1880s, when women's dresses had fitted bodices and large buttons.  From head to toe, this young woman is the epitome of early-20th century fashion.

When I called Pamela to discuss the picture she wondered, "If not Rilla, then who?" That's the exactly the problem. Let's stack up the clues and see if it's possible to narrow the time frame.

Hair: In the first decade of the 20th century, women wore their hair full. Creating this hairstyle required a "rat," a device made from your own hair harvested from a hair brush and formed into a sausage roll or (artificial versions existed). Women's magazines such as Ladies Home Journal ridiculed the extreme hairstyles of this period by showing examples of good and bad hair.



Hat: It's difficult to see, but it appears that this young woman wears a hat. Large hats were the style in the decade from 1900 to 1910. In this case, it looks like a collection of ribbons.

Dress: In the early years of the 1900- to-1910 period, dresses featured high necklines and lace insets in the yoke; in the latter part of the decade, large buttons added detail to the yoke. Corsets, which women wore beginning in their teens, created narrow waistlines.  

Late-19th century dress reform advocates changed the way women dressed. In the 20th century many women worked in offices and needed functional, easy-care clothing.  The two-piece outfit—blouse and skirt—was a necessity.

A quick glance at the 1909 Sears catalog shows blouses, skirts and hairstyles just like the one worn by this girl. You can view them in Joanne Olian's book, Everyday Fashions 1909-1920 as Pictured in the Sears Catalog (Dover Publications). Shirts with buttons and tucks were commonplace from about 1905 on.

Shoes: Pamela wondered why this girl crossed her legs. It's not uncommon to see women in this time frame posing this way, but most women of the time believed crossing one's legs was not in good taste. 

Perhaps this girl wanted to show off her boots. They're highly polished leather walking boots laced up the front. It looks like they have a bishop heel that tapers from the heel to the bottom. If that's true, this detail helps date the image. According to Nancy Rexford's Women's Shoes in America, 1795-1930 (Kent State University Press), this type of heel was popular through 1905, then it was replaced by other shapes.



So who is this stylish young woman? If the photo was taken about 1905, Pamela wonders if she could be Rilla (Cooper) Fisher's daughter Elizabeth who was born between 1883 and 1885. In 1905, Lizzie would be 20 to 22 years of age.  


1900-1910 photos | hairstyles | women
Monday, April 26, 2010 3:49:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, April 19, 2010
Birth and Death in the Family Album: Readers Respond
Posted by Maureen

Joy and sadness often go hand in hand in family photo collections.  This week I'll show off some photos that readers sent me.  Be warned....the last two pictures depict disturbing images.

twinsroose.jpg

Susan Roose thinks the photo above depicts William (died November 22, 1877) and Daniel Hunt (died November 30, 1877). They were both just a few months older than one year.  Notice the woman under the cloth. She's holding them still. These two babies look very healthy here.

twinsC07 Alston girls (3).jpg

Elizabeth Handler emailed this ambrotype of Marion Helen Alston (1850-1885) and her twin sister Christina. The back of the image states that it was framed by J.J. Gillespie Co. Fine Arts. Gillespie was a famous frame shop in Pittsburgh.

Violet Olive Victoria  Victor Clements (2).jpg

Bonnie Bileski of Winnipeg, Manitoba sent this snapshot of Violet Clements, her grandmother Olive Clements (back, right) and the twins, Victor and Victoria (born July 1, 1899).

Last week I told you I had some sad pictures from Judy Linnebach's family collection. Since so many folks e-mailed me to see them, I'll share them here.

deformed baby (4).jpg

Judy thinks that this picture depicts Freida Kohler (Nov. 7, 1907 -July 6, 1924). The cause of death was congenital hydrocephalus.

dead guy (3).jpg
Judi has no idea who this man is. All that's certain is that he's deceased and that he was photographed in St. Louis. Jay Ruby's book, Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America (out of print, but available used) is the best guide to this topic.

burns.jpg

Jackie McGuire sent in this picture with a heartbreaking story. A family story relates the tragedy of Elsietta Burns: "She was a much-beloved little girl, they say, but one day she was outside playing under the cherry tree and eating lots of cherries. She didn't know to spit out the pits and they killed her before the family could do anything for her."


1900-1910 photos | 1910s photos | children | men | unusual photos
Monday, April 19, 2010 3:55:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, April 12, 2010
Final Words on the Triplets
Posted by Diane

For the last two weeks I've written about a photo owned by Judy Linnebach. It depicts a couple and their three triplets. In the first installment, Motherhood Times Three, I discussed multiple births in the 19th century. They were a lot more common than I thought! 

In last week's installment, Mother Hubbard, I provided information on the family and their attire. I forgot to mention that in the 19th century it was common practice to obtain photos of deceased children. In this instance, the family asked an experienced photographer to take a photo of their babies even though one of them was deceased.

Additional research on the family added a mystery. There were two surviving infants, but only one lived to be an adult. I wondered what happened to George Boll. Judy was able to send me a funeral card for him.

Boll Georg death013 (2).jpg
I don't read German, so if a reader could translate the text and enter it in the comments, I'd really appreciate it.

If you want to know more about funeral cards, genealogist Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens has an online article on the topic. Geneablogger Dee Welborn has a great blog on these cards, Funeral Cards and Genealogy.  Fascinating stuff!  If you thought they were just death announcements, check out Dee's site. You can learn a lot about your family from these seemingly simple cards. 

Judy Linnebach also sent me a photo of an unidentified dead ancestor and a picture of a child who died from hydroencephalitis. If you want to see them, leave me a comment and I'll post them.

In the meantime, please e-mail me photos of multiple births before 1900.


1880s photos | children | unusual photos
Monday, April 12, 2010 4:42:14 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [6]
# Monday, April 05, 2010
Mother Hubbard
Posted by Maureen

Last week I featured Judy Linnebach's picture of a 19th-century couple and their triplets. If you have a photo of a pre-1900 set of triplets, I'd love to post it in this space. Just about everyone who commented mentioned a multiple birth in their family. I can't wait to see the photos—you can e-mail them to me

Here's the rest of the story about Judy's photo.

triplets.jpg

When she wrote to me, she asked if this could be John Basilius Boll, his wife Barbara Platzer Boll and their children. According to her research, the couple married in 1879 and had two children before they had a set of twins in 1883. Is it possible that one of the triplets died and the death went unrecorded? Let's examine the evidence.

The picture is a card photograph measuring 2.5x4 inches. It's the size of a carte de visite. These small card photos were first introduced into the United States in 1859 and remained popular for decades. The thin red line border was first common in the late 1860s.

Tobias and Co. took this photo. On the back of the image is the name of the company and key details about their location and practice.

triplets2 back.jpg

What I find interesting is the first sentence of the second paragraph: "To Mothers and heads of Families, we wish to call their attention to the frequent trouble of obtaining good and permanent Pictures of Babies." Tobias & Co. had a patented process to guarantee success.

To locate more information on Tobias, I contacted the St. Louis Public Library and spoke with librarians in both the local history collection and in fine arts. The company appeared in 1878 and later city directories, but by the mid-1880s Henry Tobias was a printer.  It was unclear from census data if this was the same man who ran the photo studio.

This photo was found in a Bible once owned by Judy's father's maternal grandmother, Lena Wilhelms. Given that it wasn't directly connected to the Boll family, I asked Judy to research all the branches of the family to see if there was another multiple birth. Last week, we learned that multiple births were hereditary, so it's quite possible that this could depict someone else in her family. No luck! 

There was another possibility though: Lena's daughter Emma was a genealogist and collected information on the Boll family. It's likely that she placed the pictures in the Bible for safe-keeping.

The clothing clues in this picture are fascinating. The husband wears a simple work shirt (the Bolls were farmers). The wife's dress is barely visible except for a plain neckline and lace-trimmed cuffs. My grandmother always wore a "house dress" when she was home, and I wondered if the same wasn't true in the 1880s. While this woman's dress isn't the current 1880s dress that you see if fashion encyclopedias, there was a wide variety of dresses for women. 

In the 1880s, a new style of dress became popular for pregnant women. It was called a Mother Hubbard. Loose-fitting and comfortable, these cotton dresses could be made with a pattern available from a catalog. The mother in this photo had likely just given birth—these are very small infants. With three babies to breast-feed, a comfortable dress like a Mother Hubbard would be perfect attire. They often featured trim at the cuffs, just like you see here.

They were so comfy that many other women wore them belted in summer to stay cool. It was a controversial choice. In the Oct. 26, 1884, New York Times, an article titled, "The Mother Hubbard in Chicago" talked about variations of the dress being worn by women in one neighborhood and how one particular woman had been arrested for it. It ended on a reassuring note: "Ladies who wear Mother Hubbard dresses on the street need not be alarmed. There is no ordinance in Chicago against the wearing of them, although such an ordinance is in vogue in the town of Morris, Ill."

According to Joan Severa in Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent State University Press), these dresses were meant for indoor use. They were house dresses, not to be worn outdoors.

So could this picture depict the Bolls and their children in 1883?  The evidence is conflicting.
  • In late December 1883, the Bolls had twin boys baptized—Charles and George.
  • In the 1900 census, the family is listed except for George. I have to double-check with Judy on his whereabouts. When asked, Barbara said she'd given birth to six children but that only five were still living. Could this refer to a deceased George? There were five children currently living with the parents. Why not mention another child if one of the triplets died?
  • Could another multiple birth in the family have gone unrecorded? It's possible.
Right now it appears that this photo documents the Boll family.
  • The mother's dress dates from the 1880s.
  • The photographer could still be taking images in his printing business (if, of course, it's the same man)
  • There are no other documented multiple births in the family. 
  • Judy has one documented multiple birth—the twin boys.
If this is the Bolls and their babies, then one of these triplets is likely deceased. This was a complicated case.

It's a haunting image.  Next week I'll be back with some other unusual pictures from Judy's family!


1880s photos | children | unusual photos | women
Monday, April 05, 2010 5:40:39 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]