This English carte de visite (CDV) is one of the most popular in my collection, if Flickr views and Pinterest re-pins equate to evidence, that is. It shows a young British widow—identifiable as such by the white ruching on her black bonnet—squatting in the background, having just propelled her black-clad daughter toward the photographer. The widow stares forward forlornly, her hand over her mouth, indicating without words her shock and concern for their future. It is a candid, painfully honest pose, and one rarely seen in types of images. She is no “Hidden Mother,” but a vital element of a tableau meant to convey the message, “This is his orphan.”
The reverse stamp on the CDV reads “T. Bennett, Photographer, 46 Foregate Street and Church Street, Malvern.” According to research conducted by the creator of Photographers of Great Britain and Ireland, 1840-1940, Thomas Bennett “opened his first studio in Worcester in 1856. At different times, he operated at five studios in Worcester and three in Malvern under his own name and the business continued under the name of Bennett & Son and Bennett & Sons until at least 1916.”
“The 1861 census records the [Bennett] family living at his shop at 46 Foregate, Worcester, where he is described as a Lay Clerk (of the church) and photographer. His firm Thomas Bennett and Son is thought to have been established about 1856. His branch in Great Malvern was possibly the second photographic studio” in that town—this information gleaned from the Malvern Records Office. Bennett threw open the doors of his Malvern studio in 1868 and the CDV of mother and daughter could not have been taken long afterward.
This Edwardian postcard from my collection shows a woman in the fullness of her beauty sat atop a chest tomb that is arguably from much earlier in the Victorian era. Whilst the woman is not dressed in conventional mourning, she does wear a recognizable widow’s bonnet—a necessary prop for the maudlin poem below the image: “She wore a wreath of roses, And once again I see that brow, No bridal wreath was there, The widow’s sombre cap conceals Her once luxuriant hair; She weeps in silent solitude, And there is no one near To press her hand within his own, And wipe away the tear; I saw her broken-hearted! Yet methinks I see her now In the pride of youth and beauty with a garland on her brow.”
The postcard was mailed from somewhere on the Channel Island of Jersey, off the coast of Normandy, France, at 6:30 a.m., 30 July, 1905, to Miss Edith Conner at Clarence Lodge, Clarence Road, in the Jersey town of St. Helier.
The sender’s message was both cheerful and bizarrely inappropriate, as it appears to recognize the recipient’s birthday: “Dear Edith! Permit me to wish you many happy returns of the day. With heaps of love & kind regards to all. Yours truly, A.J.”
One must wonder if the little shop on the High Street was dreadfully low on carte postals. Ω
“A certain vivid face, looking out at you, with its voice just a breath from speaking, can sometimes stop your heart.”
This carte de visite (CDV) is both visually stunning as well as a lovely example of mourning jewelry as it was worn in the Victorian era. And no, this woman was not Reptilian. Individuals with blue eyes merely looked like space lizards when pictured by early photographic technologies.
This is what daguerreotypist Albert Sands Southworth told his female customers in an 1854 Lady’s Almanac article titled “Suggestions for Ladies Who Sit for Daguerreotypes”: “Remember that positive red, orange, yellow or green are the same as black, or nearly so; and violet, purple and blue are nearly the same as white; and arrange your costume accordingly.”
The CDV’s subject was probably a widow in a later stage of mourning. Her headgear seems to be a snood made of woven ribbons with fancy bows and by the ears and at the crown as well as black-and-white lace that is perhaps loosely ruched around the lower part of the hairnet. In her monumental bookDressed for the Photographer, Joan Severa writes of a slightly fancier gown of an identical cut, “This well-fitted frock shows the fashionable puffed sleeve at its height in the early sixties…. The dart-fitted, short-waisted bodice and gathered straight lengths of skirt, plus the extreme width of the hoop, are clear evidence of the early date as well. Also seen here are the effects of the new corset in ordinary use: the breasts are full, separated, and well-defined, and the rib cage is tapered firmly to the small waist measurement (the corset being very short below the waist) [where a belt] cinches the garment properly.”
And now I must praise her like I should.
Joan Severa passed away in March 2015, aged 89. Although I never met Joan, I consider her a mentor and will be forever grateful for her research that taught me to date 19th Century photographs by fashions worn within a two-to-four year span, and for her writing that immeasurably enriched my understanding of the Victorian era.
Born 7 August, 1925, in Spring Green, Wisconsin, Joan was long with that state’s historical society, ultimately serving as curator of costume, textiles, and decorative arts. Dressed for the Photographer won the CSA Millia Davenport Award in 1996, and prizes from the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, the Victorian Society in America, Wisconsin Library Association, and the Golden Pen Writing Award from the United States Institute for Theater Technicians. Her followup My Likeness Taken: Daguerreian Portraits in America contains four daguerreotypes now in my collection.
In the introduction to this book, Joan wrote of the photographic traces of lives gone by, “We experience inescapable emotions when viewing these images. A certain vivid face, looking out at you, with its voice just a breath from speaking, can sometimes stop your heart.” When I read these words I was more than convinced Joan and I were kindred spirits. I’m sure that when first glimpsing the beautiful and hauntingly powerful subject of the CDV above, you may have felt the same sudden forceful hearbeats, the in-rush of air pulled sharply through your nose, and knew that when Joan wrote that last quote, she wrote it for you, too.
Leading us yet along a female pathway, the reverse of the above CDV is marked “Mrs. W. A. Reed, Artist, No. 81 1/2 Hampshire Street, Quincy, ILL.”
According to the Illinois Women Artists Project, “Candace McCormick Reed was born in Crab Orchard, Tennessee, on June 17, 1818, and moved to St. Louis as a young girl. She married Warren Reed in 1842 in St. Louis. Leaving Missouri for Quincy, Illinois, the Reeds opened a daguerreotype gallery in 1848 on the southeast corner of the downtown square, now Washington Park. When her husband died ten years later in April of 1858, Candace Reed became the gallery owner and used her acquired expertise as a daguerreotypist, ambrotypist, and photographer to support herself, two young sons, and her mother-in-law.”
Reed opened the Excelsior Gallery at 103 Hampshire Street in Quincy and took as an assistant her sister Celina McCormick. “Typically working under the name Mrs. W. A. Reed or Mrs. Warren Reed, she advertised in the Quincy Whig & Republican (January 4, 1862) promoting her new stock of camera equipment ‘to surpass everything in the line of her art,’” the Women Artist Project noted, and indeed, her career was a garden of unforgettable images.
Candace Reed died in Quincy 7 April, 1900, and despite an 1878 fire in her studio, “Numerous carte de visite portraits, family photographs and photographs of soldiers during the war survive. These photos, along with city street scenes, record events and provide an enhanced view of local 19th Century culture. Her legacy of photographic work adds immensely to community historical perspectives,” the site states. I am glad that my CVD is one of those that can yet cause a breath to draw and a heart to flutter.
In my collection I do not have an truly similar brooch to the one worn by this CDV’s subject—and this is surprising, as mourning jewelry was produced en masse and brooch bodies, ring and stick pin types, and more were commonly advertised for selection by the jewelers of grieving families. I own identical or extremely similar versions of many of the major styles. The closest match from my collection is probably the one below, made to commemorate the death of an English child only a year or so before Candice Reed photographed the blue-eyed widow above. Ω
The sap of another generation,
fingering through a broken tree
to push fresh branches
towards a further light,
a different identity.
—John Montague, “The Living and The Dead”
This wonderful outdoor image, circa 1910, shows a bonneted babe sitting in a wicker pram on an early spring day in the eastern United States. The child’s pudgy hand appears lightly pinched, rather than held, by the arthritic fingers of his or her grandmother—perhaps great-grandmother. The old woman, who was probably born in the 1830s, is magnificent with her weathered face and carefully coiffed, almost ruched white hair in contrast to her elaborate dark clothing. She seems quite elderly, but sturdy and strong. A house, possibly the family home, can be glimpsed through the leafless trees behind her.
The next image is of a multigenerational British family posed on a ground-floor window ledge on a pleasant day during the mid-1860s. Grandmother, who is dressed in black-and-white widow’s clothing, sits in wicker chair, whilst Father and Mother lean into the picture from inside the home. Mum’s hand rests possessively on the shoulder of her youngest son, whilst the eldest brother perches on the sill and the middle son sits cross-legged below him. The daughter of the house, a tween in a jaunty summer dress, looks very much a mini-me of her mother.
The third image, which is marked “J. McCornick, Photographer, 3 The Bridges, Walsall,” is more somber. One subject is a young girl of about 12 years beside an elderly gentleman who is likely her grandfather. The seated female may be the girl’s mother or her grandmother—it is hard to be sure, although they are clearly related.
The members of this family group are dressed in mourning, but nothing more of the nature of their loss can be supposed, except that the mother or grandmother was not mourning for her husband. The prevailing custom for widows’ bonnets was to include a white inset to frame the face.
Grandfather, whose hand appears to rest protectively on the small of his granddaughter’s back, holds in his other hand some type of folded document or wallet. The message he conveyed with this prop is now inscrutable, but it would have been understood by the carte de visite’s viewers.
The final image is a four-generation portrait, identified on the reverse as “Elizabeth Stokesbury, age 79 years; Clarissa Stokesbury, age 51 years; Extonetta Book, age 29 years; Esther Cook Book, age 3 years.”
At the far left is Elizabeth Clark (11 April 1824-5 Oct. 1910), born in Fayette County, Ohio, to Welsh native Joshua Clark (1795-29 March 1830) and his wife Mary Blaugher (1795-16 March 1879).
Elizabeth Clark married farmer John S. Stokesbury (7 Sept. 1819-12 May 1867), the son of Robert Stokesbury (1790–1839) and Anna Baughman (1794–1870). In 1850, the Stokesburys farmed in Jefferson, Green County, Iowa; by 1860 they had moved to a new farm in the county of Wayne. The couple had eleven children to assist them: Robert (b. abt. 1842); Angeline (b. abt. 1844); Mary Ann (b. abt. 1846); Joseph (b. abt. 1848); Sarah (b. abt. 1850); Clarissa (12 Sept. 1851-8 March 1935); Harvey (b. abt. 1853); John (b. abt. 1859); Elizabeth Ann (28 June 1861-9 Aug 1946); Clark D. (b. abt. 1863); and Launa (1865-1939).
At age 16, Clarissa, second from left, married a cousin, Jesse Bush Stokesbury (24 Jan. 1843-18 Dec. 1918), the son of James Madison Stokesbury (1813–1869) and Phoebe Painter (1819–1902). By 1870, Clarissa and Jesse had migrated to Chariton, Iowa, where, the family farm was enumerated on the 1870 Census. However, their days on the land were ended by 1880, when Jesse was recorded on the census as a laundry man, and on the 1900 Census he was enumerated as a day laborer. His widowed mother-in-law, Elizabeth Stokesbury, was also in residence, along with her youngest children.
Clarissa and John had the following sons and daughters: Bryant W. (b. abt. 1868); Hillary Edwin (13 April 1870-8 Feb. 1950); Theodosia (b. abt 1872); and Extonetta (b. Dec. 1873), second from right in the photograph, who was known as “Nettie.”
On 24 November, 1898, Nettie married harness maker and saddler John Atwater Book (Sept. 1864-17 April 1924), son of Harlan and Emmaline Book. By 1900, the Books and their first child, Esther Cook (far right—and yes, Cook Book) all lived with Jesse and Clarissa Stokesbury. Nettie and John had two more children: Sarah E. (b. 6 Feb. 1902); and Jesse H. (b. 24 Dec. 1903). Sarah married Loren L. Adams on 12 September, 1935; Jesse married Fae Arza Wicks in June 1929. He died in January 1970 in Seymour, Indiana, and was buried at Chariton Cemetery.
Nettie’s brother Edwin Stokesbury, who became a broom maker and married Ollie B. Ritter on 20 February, 1894, had set up house in Chariton by 1900. The couple had four children, but shortly thereafter the marriage failed. Ollie married as her second husband a man named Van Trump and Edwin’s children took their step-father’s surname. By 1920, widowed Clarissa and her son Edwin lived together.
In 1920, Esther Book worked as a bookkeeper in a Chariton store along with sister Sarah. On the 1930 Census, Nettie, Esther, and Sarah were enumerated in one household, with Nettie working as a sales lady in a variety store; Esther worked as a bookkeeper in a bank and Sarah was a tailoress in a dry goods store.
The Des Moines Register of 25 December, 1935, featured a testimonial advertisement by Nettie in which she was quoted, “I like the simplicity of operating the Colonial Furnace and the way it holds fire. The damper enables one to feed the fire so that no smoke, soot, or gas escapes into the rooms. And I like the draft in the feed door, which can be opened to prevent puffing.”
Extonetta Book died on 8 May, 1962, and was buried in Chariton Cemetery. It appears that her daughter Esther never married. She worked for many years as the secretary of the Farmers Mutual Insurance Association and died 25 March, 1965, three years after her mother. Esther is also buried in Chariton Cemetery. Ω