The Library recently acquired a small album of photographs taken in Virginia’s Tidewater region. It contains six cyanotypes depicting work at the freight docks of Newport News and other subjects. Of particular interest is a laid-in cyanotype which appears to be a portrait of Frances Benjamin Johnston, a pioneering female American photographer.
Johnston was a remarkable photographer. She took portraits of American presidents and the high society of the turn of the nineteenth century from her Washington, D.C. studio, but also participated in ambitious documentary projects, such as her architectural photographs of Southern states. For one of her best-known commissions, she traveled to Virginia to document the students of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1899-1900. Her photographs of this important education institution for African Americans and Native Americans are preserved in her collection at the Library of Congress.
Based on the probable identification of the woman in the photograph as Johnston and the photographs of the area around Hampton in the album, these photographs have been dated to the first decade of the 1900s. However, no information about the photographer is yet known. Were they a student or colleague of Johnston? Is it possible that the photographs (or some of the photographs) are by Johnston herself?
The album is also accompanied by handwritten directions for making “Pyro Developer” and a “fixing bath for platinum prints,” which may provide further evidence that the creator may have been a student or novice photographer. (The large initial “B” on the “Pyro Developer” formula bears some resemblance to Johnston’s handwriting, but the handwriting of the rest of the formula does not appear to be similar to hers.)
If anyone has clues or guesses to contribute to the mystery of the photographer’s identity, please share them in the comments section below!
Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections.
The Medical Center Library & Archives is excited to announce its new exhibit, “The Henkel Physicians: A Family’s Life in Letters.” Produced by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the exhibit traces the daily lives of a family of physicians in the Shenandoah Valley during the nineteenth century, serving in their community, on the battleground, and in the nation’s courts of law.
The Medical Center Library also collaborated with the Rubenstein Library on an exhibit to complement the NLM display. “From the Rubenstein Collections: The Henkel Family Physicians” features rare books and manuscripts along with materials from the History of Medicine Collections. It includes letters written by the Henkels, books and broadsides published by the Henkel Press, and nineteenth-century medical instruments and artifacts.
The NLM Exhibit will be on display through August 24th on Level 3 of the Medical Center Library & Archives. The Medical Center Library and Rubenstein collaboration will available through October on Level 1. To learn more about the Henkel family and nineteenth-century medicine, visit the NLM’s digital companion to the display.
While researching a reference request among the William Mahone Papers, an interesting piece of ephemera was discovered that gives us a peek at the opinions of one African American politician regarding the lingering shadows of the Confederacy almost 15 years after the Civil War ended. On December 20, 1879, a letter was sent to Mahone, who was the recently elected US Senator for the state of Virginia.
The author of the letter, who decided not to sign their name, seemed to take issue with Mahone and the idea that he had turned his back on the Confederacy. He/she noted, “…you who once so nobly lead the Virginia troops to battle could now turn against them is a shame…The wrath of God is upon you.” What could have stirred up such vitriol from the sender of this brief but contemptuous letter? The answer lies in the article that was attached to the letter.
The clipping, though undated, was likely printed in the same year. The bold call of State Senator Cephas Davis, himself a former slave, for a resolution “prohibiting the use of the words one-legged, two-legged or four-legged Confederate soldier,” was undoubtedly newsworthy. Davis would only serve one year in the VA State Senate, but it is interesting that he not only saw himself a victor in the Civil War, but also an agent to ensure the Confederacy would not be remembered.