Austere woman from Philadelphia

What it is:

Carte de visite (CDV) photo measuring 2.5 x 4 inches.

What I know about it:

Photographer is R. J. Hillier’s Photographic Rooms of Philadelphia.  Otherwise undated and unidentified.


The poor thing looks rather dour here, but I suspect she’s one of those people who look better when they are smiling.  Still, smiles are less common in photos of that era, largely, I understand, because such expressions were harder to hold for the lengthier exposure times required by the technology of the day.  On the other hand, perhaps it’s just the odd proprietary feelings I get for the subjects of my photos that have me making excuses for her.  After all, she could indeed have been a sour, unpleasant person.

8 comments on “Austere woman from Philadelphia”

  1. I agree that one cannot really interpret a personality when so little is given away.

    Another classic hair-do that lends credence to the possibility she was a bit of a sour puss, but.

    • Agreed. I’ve also been wondering lately if people back then didn’t know how to show themselves to their best advantage because they didn’t know what they looked like in photos. There would have been mirrors and other means of seeing your reflection, but having a photo of yourself would still have been a rare (if not unique) thing. These days candid snapshots are so ubiquitous that we know what we look like from various angles, with various facial expressions, in various lighting, etc., but that might not have been common knowledge then. Does that make sense?

  2. She looks like she just swallowed a lemon. Whole.

  3. HARD TIMES….that is what is going on with many of these images.
    Philadelphia was swarming with various and ugly social issues, very chaotic time.
    I would not have wanted to be a young child in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s in Pennsylvania! They constructed many institutions to house people with all sorts of issues…..if you were found standing in front of a theatre for no reason, well the House of Refuge would pluck you off the street for loitering! They would refer to you as a juvenile delinquent.

    • Yes, we take so much for granted these days. I so often hear people talk about “the good ol’ days” or “simpler times”, but I think that’s just a myth.

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