Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Photographic Mystery: An Anonymous Picture of a Woman in the 1869 Senate Album

Sometimes a little mystery makes a project all the more interesting! In a recent blog entry, I reported on our newly digitized legislative photograph collection and some of the characteristics I observed. Since then, I have been working ardently on creating and fixing metadata that will be attached to each photograph. Although the project is moving along pretty smoothly, some snags are to be expected—namely trying to identify unidentified legislators, officers of the court, and other images included within the collection. I’ve been largely successful with the bound Senate albums, relying greatly on the relationship between the order of the pictures in the album and the senators’ seating arrangements found in the Manuals of the General Court, but I am finding that the loose photographs are incredibly difficult to identify.

One image in particular pleasantly surprised me: our Senate album for the year 1869 concludes with a final picture of an anonymous woman. Keep in mind, the first female Massachusetts legislator did not serve until 1923 (also see our updated list of women in the Mass. Legislature), so this is a bit of a head-scratcher. Who was she? Was she the widow of an important Massachusetts legislator? Women’s suffrage continued to be an active cause during this time period—could she have been making waves in the legislature? Was she an officer for the Senate? Her picture comes at the end of the album where the officers were typically located. Nevertheless, officers and appointees of the General Court in the 19th century were, like legislators, exclusively men; it wasn’t until the early 20th century that we begin to see women appointed to positions such as cashiers and stenographers. Unfortunately, the 1869 Manual of the General Court, as well as the Journal of the Senate for that year, provide no helpful information on who she was and the role she played.

If you recognize the woman in this picture, or have strong suspicions that you might know who she is, please contact the State Library at reference.department@state.ma.us.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department