Brady’s Ladies

Posted by Penny in Articles

The US National Archives on Flickr Commons currently has sixty-three sets of photographs by Mathew Brady. Brady is usually remembered as a Civil War photographer—maybe the Civil War photographer—but one set of his images on Flickr, over 200 images, is almost all of portraits of women in the 1860s. Now, before you imagine grim-faced widows in bonnets, high collars, and prim hair, meet Mrs. Chapin:

Mathew Brady
Mrs. Chapin, ca. 1860-ca. 1865
US National Archives: 111-B-1638

Not so prim, hm? The set contains actresses and doctors (Mary Walker and Clemence Lozier), a senator’s wife or two, and a lot of women who, like Mrs. Chapin, are Mrs. Somebody, and that’s all we know about them. The photographs are excellent for details of jewelry and dress construction; one of the images was analyzed at length in Joan L. Severa’s Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent State University Press 1995): 335.

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