Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Frocks and Frills: Children’s Fashion at the Turn of the 20th Century

Marriott C. Morris took this photograph of his son, Marriott Jr., in 1903 outside their house on Cresheim Road in the Mt. Airy neighborhood.  Young Marriott’s attire was typical for a boy of three at the time: skirted sailor suit, long hair, stockings and a wide brimmed hat.  However for modern viewers who are used to seeing young boys wearing pants and short hair, this image raises some questions. 

John Frank Keith, Small child
standing on doorstep, Philadelphia
c. 1915
In her article “Clothing and Gender in America: Children’s Fashions 1890-1920,” Jo B. Paoletti points out that until about WWI it was common to see boys dressed like Marriott Jr., or in other words, in a way that modern viewers might associate with typical girls fashion.  Paoletti proposes a few motivations for the use of this style.  One reason was quite practical; dresses were easier and cheaper to sew and could be used as a hand-me-down whether the child was a boy or a girl.  However, the Morris family was wealthy enough that the financial benefits of dresses were probably not their chief concern.  According to Paoletti, distinguishing between girls and boys was less important than distinguishing between adults and children.  This effect was heightened by the common use of white fabric in clothing for both boys and girls rather than the gendered pink and blue color coding seen today.  In this context, Marriott Jr.’s light skirted suit and long hair mark him most importantly as a child, rather than as a boy or a girl.
Universal Fashion Co.
Trade Card, c. 1882

The changes in a child’s dress represented a slow adoption of more adult styles and the child’s gradual maturation.  In the late 19th and very early 20th centuries, all infants wore long white dresses until they were able to walk and shorter dresses until they were about two or three.  After that, both boys and girls often wore skirted suits like the one in Morris’ photo of his son with subtle changes in trim and fastening differentiating between boys and girls.  This image on the right from the July-December, 1889 issue of Godey’s Ladies Book shows examples of clothing for children.  The two designs in the center of the page (Figures 14-17) were intended for children of about two years, the outfit on the left for “every-day wear” and the outfit on the right featuring an insertion of Yak lace.  The text does not specify a gender for the frocks, presumably since both boys and girls would have been wearing them.

Sometime between ages five and seven, usually coinciding with school attendance, boys graduated to knickerbockers and had their hair cut.  Sailor suits and garments inspired by military uniforms were especially popular.  The design on the lower right of the Godey’s page (Figures 20-21) shows a suit for a boy of about four years reminiscent of a military jacket.  The suit features a vest and trousers, items specifically worn by boys.  It wasn't until a boy was about twelve that he began to wear long trousers and dress more like a grown man. 

The photographs of Morris’ sons in the Morris Collection provide a visual example of the progression from dresses to trousers typical for young boys around the turn of the century.  In this portrait of Elliston Jr., Morris’ oldest son wears the long white dress common for a child of about one.  Elliston Jr. is able to stand supporting himself on a wooden chair, however since his dress is still long we can presume that he has not yet learned how to walk.  Morris’ second son, Marriott Jr. was born a year later in 1900.  In this photo on the right from 1902, Marriott Jr. is about a year and a half old and Elliston Jr. is three.  Marriott Jr. wears a long dress similar to the one his brother wore in the above photograph while Elliston Jr. has graduated to a skirted suit.  His hair has been trimmed but is still tied back with a bow.  By 1904, both boys wear skirted suits in the sailor style as seen in the photograph below.  At five years old, Elliston Jr.’s hair is cut short, however at four years old Marriott Jr.’s hair is still long and pulled back with a ribbon.  By 1907, in the family photograph on the right, both boys were dressed in sailor suits with knickerbockers and their hair cut short.  Their younger sister Janet, born that same year, was now wearing a long white dress that was perhaps handed down from one of her brothers. 
In general, the Morris children seem to adhere to traditional children’s attire of the time.  However, it seems as though Elliston Jr’s hair was cut short at around three years old while Marriott Jr.’s hair was long until he was about five years old.   As Paoletti points out, the exact timing of a boy’s switch from skirts to trousers and his haircut was ultimately up to his mother.  Perhaps Marriott Jr.’s longer hair reflected a desire on the part of his mother Jane to maintain his childhood innocence just a little bit longer. 

Jo B. Paoletti. "Clothing and Gender in America: Children's Fashions, 1890-1920." Signs 13, no. 1: 136-43. JSTOR.

Alison Van Denend
Assistant Project Manager
The Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Preserving the Legacy of the Pennsylvania Railroad

The following is a guest post by Michael Froio who is a professional photographer, associate professor and facilities manager for the Photography Program, part of the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Drawing inspiration from the work of William H. Rau and Frederick Gutekunst, Michael’s ongoing project, “From the Mainline” examines the former Pennsylvania Railroad highlighting the landscape it traveled and the engineering legacy it left behind. His photographic work and research on the subject can be found at

At the close of 2014 the Greer Family donated a remarkable piece of Pennsylvania Railroad history in the form of an oversized album of large format photographs made by Frederick Gutekunst (1831-1917) a native of the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Operating out of a studio at 7th and Arch Streets for more than 50 years Gutekunst was considered one of the preeminent photographers in the post-Civil War era. Some of his subjects included noteworthy people like Thomas Eakins and Walt Whitman but also extended beyond portraiture to include architecture and the built environment of the PRR. Before this album surfaced most examples of his work were in the form of stereo views, making this collection of 16x12” large format prints incredibly rare.
Plate 61, Allegheny Tunnel, Galitzen, Pennsylvania. One of 91 beautiful images from the Album of Frederick Gutekunst's photographs recently donated to the Library Company of Philadelphia by the Greer family. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia.
The portfolio, dating from ca. 1875, titled simple “Scenery of the Pennsylvania Railroad” represents one in a series of campaigns the PRR embarked on to celebrate the railroad as a destination, touting the freshly manicured railroad dissecting the wilds of Pennsylvania, following serpentine rivers, paralleling the canals the road made obsolete; a symbol of modern engineering and progress in America. Fittingly the railroad chose photography over traditional illustrations and paintings, providing a tangible image which potential travelers could connect to, a portal into the world of the PRR and the landscape it traveled. Like his contemporary William H. Rau, Gutekunst utilized the large plate view camera to portray the growing railroad as the country recovered from the American Civil War. This remarkable portfolio illustrates the Pennsylvania Railroad before the grand system improvements started under Chief Engineer William H. Brown and his successors, which would last from the late 1870’s well into the first decade of the 20th Century.
On the Conemaugh at Lockport, Pennsylvania, by Frederick Gutekunst. Up until the PRR portfolio surfaced, much of Gutekunst's work for the PRR was only known to exist in stereo views like this. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia.
What makes this donation even more special, especially to PRR preservationists is that we owe a great debt of gratitude to a former Pennsylvania Railroad employee for having the foresight and pride in his employer to save the portfolio.

David St. John Greer, was born in Philadelphia in 1914, his father a laborer and his mother a seamstress. Settling in New Jersey, David completed high school in Pemberton, NJ and enrolled in a 4-year business administration program at Drexel University. Graduating from Drexel in 1937, Greer would begin a 32-year career with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Though the details of his early years with the company are limited, in 1943 despite being exempt as a railroad employee to serve during WWII, he felt compelled to serve his country and enlisted in the Navy. Greer was never deployed in active war but was appointed as the Assistant Supervisor of Exports for the PRR Port of Philadelphia and later served as the District Property Transportation Officer in the Port of Philadelphia Customs House while also acting on the Ports Conditions Committee. Greer was released from active duty in January of 1946 as a Lieutenant returning to his civilian job with the PRR. Over the next 11 years Greer worked all over the system as a Supervising Agent for important terminals like Williamsport, Harrisburg, the company piers of New York, and Philadelphia. In 1953 he was promoted to Superintendent of Stations in the Pittsburgh Region and later the Chicago area from 1955-57. By the end of 1957 Greer was promoted to Manager / Director of Freight Stations and Motor Service on the entire system, responsible for all stations and trucking companies owned by the PRR. In 1968, the fateful year long time rivals PRR and NYC merged Greer was appointed Director of Stations system wide where he served just one short year, deciding that he could no longer work for the merged railroads.

David St. John Greer, pictured here in the center of the middle row (dark suit) was a devoted Pennsylvania Railroad employee who purchased the Gutekunst album after the ill fated merger of the PRR and rival New York Central in 1968. After being in their possession for over 45 years the Greer family decided to donate the album to the Library Company of Philadelphia where it will  join a sizable collection of Gutekunst's work along side the William H. Rau commissions for the PRR. Image courtesy of the Greer Family.
During that last year, the PC worked to wipe the slate of documents and ephemera from the PRR archives offering items for sale to employees and later holding public auctions. It was here that Greer purchased the Gutekunst Album along with a number of other pieces of PRR memorabilia. Greer’s son, David, recalls, “My father loved the PRR and hated the merger. He particularly loved freight operations. He worked in places that included many of the locations in Pennsylvania pictured in the [Gutekunst] photographs and felt a close kinship to the railroad and the state of Pennsylvania. He took good care of the album but would occasionally sit and look at the photos much as I have done for the past twenty years.” David’s father gifted many of the other items he purchased at auction after his retirement, but held on to the album of photographs. “I think it is telling he kept the photographs, clearly the most valuable piece of railroad memorabilia he had. He also kept things that I think reminded him of the good times on the railroad. As an example he kept and displayed the menu from his dinner on the last run of the all Pullman Broadway Limited. The train crew signed the menu and he kept it along with some of the serving pieces that were used for this dinner. I think he felt that the end of the Broadway Limited was the end of an era. He flew to Chicago on business so that he could ride home on the Limited’s last eastbound trip as an all Pullman train, disembarking at Paoli near his home.”

Survived by his daughter Ann Hiros and son David Greer, David St. John Greer passed in December of 1993, leaving the album among other items with the family. In late 2013 I had heard about the album surfacing through PRRT&HS archivist Charlie Horan and in March of 2014 had the pleasure of meeting David on a train trip to Pittsburgh riding the Juniata Terminal Company PRR 120 and the Warrior Ridge (A Ride on the Pennsylvania). Dave expressed his interest in donating the album to a place that not only could care for it properly but also make it accessible to the public. Given my experience with the Rau collection housed at the Library Company of Philadelphia I suggested that David consider the institution, not only because of Gutkunst’s Philadelphia connection but also because of the existing collection of his work already at the LCP. It would also bring together two very important collections of photography that focused on the Pennsylvania Railroad from the 19thCentury. At the close of 2014 the Greer family ultimately decided the album belonged in LCP’s permanent collection, adding to an incredible archive of 19th Century prints and photographs. We are lucky to have this resource preserved where it will ultimately be digitized for many future generations to enjoy in the honor of David St. John Greer and photographer Frederick Gutekunst.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Keeping the Highways and Byways Safe

In 1906 the Keystone Automobile Club was established, and fifteen years later became affiliated with the newly formed National Motorists' Association, a group promoting national standards for roads, pedestrian and motorist safety, as well as the distribution of travel information. In the Library Company of Philadelphia's collection of photographs by the Philadelphia commercial studio The Photo-Illustrators are a number of publicity shots relating to the Keystone Automobile Club's activities during the 1920s through the 1940s.

The Photo-Illustrators. Keystone Automobile Club Testing Site, gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1925. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of Joseph Kelly.

The Photo-Illustrators. Awarding an Inspection Sticker, gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1925. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of Joseph Kelly.

At an unidentified location, the Keystone Automobile Club set up an area for motorists to test their car headlights. Club mechanics were on hand to make whatever adjustments deemed necessary before the awarding of a sticker indicating that the car possessed headlights meeting the city of Philadelphia's standards.

The Photo-Illustrators. Keystone Automobile Club Motor Patrol Changing a Tire, gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1937. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of Joseph Kelly,

By the late 1930s motorcycle-riding members of the Club's motor patrol offered assistance to stranded motorists. Changing a tire with white gloves on might have been problematic for our distressed motorist, but it is a shame to think that this nattily dressed mechanic would get grease on his uniform while performing his duties.

The Photo-Illustrators. Keystone Automobile Club's Safety Test Trailer in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1937. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of Joseph Kelly.

In the summer of 1937, the Keystone Automobile Club launched a "new and effective safety weapon," the safety test trailer. Licensed drivers were invited to try out their skills in a series of tests housed in the 23-foot-long trailer. The safety trailer was also part of the Club's educational program aimed at future drivers, and along with posters, films, and textbooks sought to instill important safety lessons to students from elementary school through high school.

Although the safety test trailer may not be pulling into your community any time soon, the mission of automobile clubs today in promoting safe habits for drivers and pedestrians has not changed over the decades.

Sarah J. Weatherwax
Curator of Prints and Photographs

Friday, February 27, 2015

Behind the Scenes

As a visitor to the Library Company, you might see any of the thousands of objects in our collection in a variety of ways.  You could view prints, pamphlets, and paintings as part of an exhibition in the gallery, study rare books in the reading room, or unfold a map from the 18th century in the print room.  What you probably won’t see is what these objects looked like before they were framed, organized and cataloged into the collection.  In fact, many items arrive at the Library Company like this: 

So how does a box like this become a collection ready for researchers or an exhibition?  For the answer we must step into what some would call the less than glamorous (this blogger disagrees!) world of processing. 

The Library Company received this box full of glass and film negatives, photographic prints, and journals from the Morris family to augment the Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection already at the Library Company.  In order to integrate these new works into the Print Department, a lot of work needs to be done.  First, each negative and photographic print must be housed in its own acid-free paper envelope for preservation.  Then the envelopes are ordered chronologically in specially made archival boxes.
In order to find information like date, location and subject of the photos we have a few resources at our disposal.  Negatives can be placed on a lightbox like this one which allow the photograph to come to life even when there is no print.  Certain small details may not be visible until the negative is digitized, but the lightbox allows us to get a general idea of the photo’s subject.  In  many cases, this part of the process needs to be completed rapidly.  Outside their original housing perhaps for the first time in years, some film negatives begin to curl and warp.  Similarly, if the emulsion on a glass negative is starting to flake sitting out on a lightbox could potentially speed up the damage. 

In the case of this collection, information such as the date and location of the photograph are often easy to find thanks to Marriott C. Morris’s meticulous notes and the Morris family’s dedication to preserving his work.  Morris kept journals and recorded the date, time, lighting, subject and camera used for many of his photographs.  He also  wrote basic information like location and date on the original envelopes and sometimes scratched a title into the border of the negative.  If a negative matches up with a journal entry, we have all the information we need.  If not, we garner what we can from the envelope and give the negative a title drawn from the subject of the photograph.  Once the negative is digitized, new details may emerge allowing us to title the photograph more specifically.  For example, Morris took many images of his family.  Recognizing a person in an unlabeled photograph would change the title from [Baby girl] to [Janet, 10 months].
Once all the negatives have been housed and organized, they will be given accession numbers and the next phase of the project can begin.  The negatives are scanned and placed into a database of high quality digital images on the Library Company’s server.  We create another database with all the information gleaned from the journals and the negatives themselves, as well as the digital filenames of the scans, so that the collection can easily be cataloged.  Catalog records and the digital images will be made available online to the public through the Library Company’s catalogs WolfPAC and ImPAC, which can be found on the homepage of our website.  With the collection finally organized, accessioned, rehoused, and labeled researchers can easily use these resources and Library Company staff can display the items in exhibitions both in the gallery and online. 

All of this important work for the Morris Collection could not be done without the generosity of the Morris family.  With their donation of their grandfather’s work, David Marriott Morris, Eleanor Rhoads Morris Cox, and William Perot Morris also donated the funds to process and preserve the collection.  Thanks to the Morris family, people across Philadelphia and the world will be able to enjoy and learn from Marriott C. Morris’s photographs both at the Library Company and online.

Alison Van Denend
Assistant Project Manager
The Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection

Monday, February 9, 2015

Love is in the Air

Perhaps as a distraction from yet another month of winter weather, turning the calendars to February focuses some of our thoughts on Valentine’s Day and romance. While we are all familiar with today’s ubiquitous visual records of weddings, I found myself wondering about love and marriage and photography in an earlier time period, and began looking through the Library Company’s collections with an eye to romance.
In the late 19th century marriage and courtship found their way into popular visual culture through comic stereographs like this one by Philadelphia photographer William Rau   The  large umbrella undoubtedly hid the young couple’s furtive kissing. 

 William Rau. Before Marriage, albumen print stereograph, 1897. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of Sandra Markham. 

The interruption of clandestine romantic activities between courting couples or within (and even outside) a marriage was a recurring theme of comic stereographs.  Rau, for example, also copyrighted a series of a dozen stereographs telling the story of Mr. and Mrs. Turtledove. When a new attractive French cook entered their household, romantic complications ensued. Mrs. Turtledove finds incriminating flour-covered handprints on Mr. Turtledove’s jacket and demands that he leave their home. The sheepish husband wins back his wife’s affections and replaces the good-looking young servant with a homely older woman. 

 William Rau. “She Must Leave This House At Once,” albumen print stereograph, 1902. The Library Company of Philadelphia. 

More respectful visual depictions of matrimony can also be found in the Library Company’s collections, including marriage certificates. A number contain photographs of the bride and groom, and in some cases, even the officiant presiding over the ceremony.  

Marriage Certificate for Thomas Rhahle and Mary Dasher, chromolithograph with albumen photographs. York PA: Crider & Brother, ca. 1885. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of David Doret. 

This chromolithographic marriage certificate celebrates the union between Thomas Rhahle and Mary Dasher that took place in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on September 28, 1885. Although the certificate incorporates the still somewhat new technology of photography, its owners have not yet acquired mastery of the visual language. The bride’s photograph is placed in the oval on the right side with the result that her back is to her groom. The photograph of the groom shows a man looking far more like a carefree bachelor with his cigarette dangling out of his mouth and his hat placed at a rakish angle on his head than a man about to enter into the solemn bonds of matrimony. 

Amateur Philadelphia photographer Marriott C. Morris has captured a more expected, and now traditional, view of a wedding couple in this photograph. 

 Marriott C. Morris, Wedding of Sarah W. Perot and Richard M. Lea, April 17, 1901, digital print from original glass negative. The Library Company of Philadelphia. 

Sarah Perot and Richard Lea, the bride and groom, are placed in the front and center of the group which includes a large number of groomsmen and bridesmaids. The older gentleman with the high collar in the background is most likely the minister who performed the ceremony on April 17, 1901. 

Library Company photographs document not only the beginning of wedded bliss, but also celebrate the longevity of love and marriage like this portrait of an older couple. Taken at a Philadelphia studio, the cabinet card’s mount has been customized to commemorate the unfortunately unidentified husband and wife’s fifty- year marriage.

Tyson & Son. Unidentified Couple’s 50th Wedding Anniversary, albumen print cabinet card, 1903. The Library Company of Philadelphia. 

Sarah J. Weatherwax
Curator of Prints and Photographs