Photograph as Fashion Plate: The Case of ANOTHER Unknown Woman

I have long given up on my original photographic quest.  I will measure my Minor Family Album success not on how many faces I  identify and claim as family, but by how much  I have learned about dating old photographs and–perhaps more importantly–about converting a family heirloom into a historical artifact.

So I was not dismayed when I turned my attention to page nineteen in the Minor Family Album and discovered yet another face with ab.so.lute.ly no clues to her identity.  I just shifted gears, wasting little time in moving from family historian to social historian.

This is not a photograph.

No, ma’am.  This cabinet card is a fashion plate, with just enough detail to provide a glimpse into women’s fashion in the late 1890s.

In the period between 1888 and 1897, women’s sleeves went from being skin tight to puffed at the shoulders with yards of fabric gathered into full sleeves.  By 1897 the cumbersome style was being replaced with a more tailored sleeve and shoulder caps or flounces.  The capelets  shown here are just one example of this style which had the effect of greatly exaggerating the width of a woman’s shoulders.  The sleeve underneath these lace-trimmed caps appears to have some fullness, which would indicate that this dress was made just as the fashion shifted.

This is more than a fashion plate.

The unknown woman wears a high, stiff collar, with a bit of lace for decoration.  Conventional day dress.  But it also is a clear indication of how social mores of modesty affected women’s fashion.  “To permit one’s neck to show in daytime is bad form,” stated the Ladies Home Journal in August 1890.  Keeping one’s skin hidden, even in the heat of summer, was more important than being comfortable, a subject that could lead me into the research of how politics, women’s suffrage, and fashion played out during the nineteenth century.

One last thing…

I do believe that this portrait is of the same person featured in the family shot on  page 18 of the MInor Family Album.

What do you think?

Unidentified Woman, cabinet card, J.W. Ward, photographer, Connellsville, Pennsylvania, 1897-1900. The Minor Family Album, p. 19, Author’s Collection, 2014.

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Trio Incognito: The Minor Family Album

Sometime between 1883-1888, F. P. Morgan ushered these three people into his Uniontown (Pennsylvania) studio on Morgantown Street, and shot this cabinet card photo.  Their identity is concealed by the passage of time; their relationship to the Minor family of Green County lost in a historical fog.

Their relationship to each other, however, is clearly described in the photographer’s clever posing.

The silver-haired gentleman sits relaxed in an upholstered chair, while the woman and boy stand to his right with their arms resting on his shoulder and arm.  Their hands line up, smack dab in the middle of the frame, a visual statement–We are family.  The tableau is vintage Victorian; the husband is seated in the only chair signifying his role as patriarch and the woman is beside him as helpmeet.  Together they shelter and nurture their six(ish) year old son.

Three faces, one family.  Incognito.

Unidentified Family, cabinet card, F. P. Morgan, photographer, Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 1883-1888.  The Minor Family Album, p. 18, Author's Collection, 2014.

Unidentified Family, cabinet card, F. P. Morgan, photographer, Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 1883-1888. The Minor Family Album, p. 18, Author’s Collection, 2014.

Unknown Woman In Day Cap: The Minor Family Album

This middle-aged woman sat for her portrait, held motionless by a photographer’s head rest for the minutes-long exposure. The discomfort of such stillness couldn’t keep an impish grin from her face.  Woman in a Day Cap’s identity and relationship to my family has been lost. Her photograph, however, can serve now as a mid-nineteenth century fashion plate, evidence of what a mature woman wore out and about on a cold day.

LOOK WITH ME

A white cap covers the woman’s gray-streaked hair, framing her face with its starched ruffles.  A white ribbon is tied under her chin, ensuring the cap’s place come wind or rain.  At her throat, the woman wears a white cotton collar, one to three inches wide, with scalloped tatted edges decoratively set off by the dark material underneath.  The woolen wrap is worn draped across the front, gathered and fastened on the upper left arm–not at the throat like other coats and cloaks of the 1840s and 1850s.  Her hands are tucked inside a white fur muff, likely made of ermine.

Even if I don’t know how this woman is related to my Minor family, I take great delight in the inclusion of her photograph.  As always, digging in the Minor Family Album reveals treasures.

Smiling Woman Wearing Day Cap. Cabinet card (1885-1895) of original daguerreotype (1845-1855). Minor Family Album, p. 17; author's collection. 2014.

Smiling Woman Wearing Day Cap. Cabinet card (1885-1895) of original daguerreotype (1845-1855). Minor Family Album, p. 17; author’s collection. 2014.

A Well Dressed Woman: (almost) wordless wednesday

One in a set of three photographs taken by Trinidad, Colorado photographer, Oliver Eugene Aultman, in 1890 and sent to the Marion and Mary Jane Gwynne Minor Family. Located in the Minor Photograph Album, archived with author.

The West Building, site of the first Aultman StudioOne hundred and twenty-four years ago Oliver E. Aultman welcomed a well dressed woman and her family to his newly opened third floor gallery in the West Building, the “finest (photography studio) of its size west of Chicago” according to the local papers. Trinidad, Colorado was a booming town in 1890, supporting the surrounding mining communities and business ventures.  This family arrived in their finest clothes, the father and eldest son dressed in matching plaid three-piece suits, their patterned silk ties neatly knotted at their throats.  The younger boy, not old enough for his own suit, wore his best pleated wool coat, with a complimentary bow tie.  The two girls wore matching dresses, with ruffled shoulders and loose fitting bodices.  The mother wore a dark dress, with a pleated bodice and ruffled shoulders, decorated with elaborate applique and a small locket.  Her hair was swept back in a low bun, with short bangs and a bit of curl.

Aultman Ad 1892 Trinidad DirectoryOliver Aultman composed several shots of the family; the adults were placed in separate poses empty of props or backdrops, and the children were grouped on some bales of hay, casually placed in front of a subtle bamboo-patterned panel.  After the shoot, the young photographer and the parents discussed the viewing of proofs; the glass negatives were placed in envelopes and labeled S.A. Stephens in pencil.  Sometime later the final portraits were selected, copies made and distributed to friends and family, including the family of Francis Marion and Mary Jane Gwynn Minor, of Garards Fort, Pennsylvania.  Who was S. A. Stephens?  Is that the name of the father?  Of the mother, the well dressed woman?  Or is it the name of the person who contracted for the sitting?  And how is S. A. Stephens and the well dressed family related to the Minors of Ceylon Lane, Garards Fort, Pennsylvania?? 

Accepting all hints and recommendations for further investigation!!  Stay tuned…

Click on the images below to view these photographs more closely.