Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
College Archives and Special Collections


@ElizaBTweetin: June 12, 1873: Photograph in Boston

Posted on June 10, 2014

Another busy day in Boston.  Eliza Wheaton took her sister Mary to the city, where, as usual, Eliza visited one of her many banks. This time, she drew on the Merchants Savings Institution for carpeting for the Trinitarian Congregational Church. Then the real work began: choosing the carpeting (for which she paid $200). They met the Misses Titus, Carter, and Mellus, all Seminary teachers, in town, but it is not clear if they assisted in the choice…as we know, the more people who become involved in matters of decoration, the more difficult the process!

Picque or marcella, machine-made whitework.

Pique or marcella, machine-made whitework.

Eliza’s summer wardrobe also required attention: she purchased lace, ribbon, white piqué (or “marcella”, a machine-made adaptation of whitework), trimming, pearl buttons and thread. And some foods simply weren’t available in Norton! Although she doesn’t specify the groceries purchased, Eliza paid $5.84 at Cobb, Bates & Yerxa’s, a grocer established in 1871 at 510 Washington St.  Eliza shopped at this grocer during every visit to Boston, and probably had for some years, as she often writes their pre-1871 name, Cobb & Bates.

Eliza B. Wheaton, 12 June 1873 photo by A. Marshall

Eliza B. Wheaton, 12 June 1873 photo by A. Marshall

Finally, Eliza sat for her photograph at Augustus Marshall’s studio at 147 Tremont Street.  If she looks a trifle grim, it may be from exhaustion after the day’s shopping. The albumen print photo is mounted on a thick paper card, or carte de visite, the size of a visiting card, bearing the photographer's advertisement on the verso. Such photos were tremendously popular throughout the 1860s; the Archives holds several large photo albums full of such photos of Wheaton students and teachers. The carte de visite was supplanted in the early 1870s by the larger "cabinet card".

We seldom know exactly how a person was dressed on a certain day in the 19th century, let alone the exact day a photo was taken, yet here is Eliza in her black silk trimmed with lace, fringed braid, black buttons, and satin bow. It doesn't look particularly comfortable for a warm summer day in the city, yet she would not dream of appearing in less than proper "street" attire. Her severe hair arrangement harkens back to the mid-1860s.  Her gold-rimmed glasses are among the treasured Wheaton possessions in the College Archives.

Treated 12 June 1873 photo of Eliza B. Wheaton by A. Marshall.

Treated 12 June 1873 photo of Eliza B. Wheaton by A. Marshall.

Did this photo please her? Perhaps not.  We have only one copy in the Archives, and two of this "treated" version, which hides the unattractive bunching of the fabric across her bosom.  The Archives holds two of these cards.  The few extant copies in our collections may actually indicate that she gave many away to friends, family, students, alumnae and teachers. Oddly, Eliza’s cashbook, in which she kept such careful track of her expenditures, contains no entry for the photograph, so we don't know how many she ordered.

A. Marshall Photographer, advertisement in Cambridge Chronicle, 1884

A. Marshall Photographer, advertisement in Cambridge Chronicle, 1884

Marshall, born in ca. 1835, took his first pictures in 1858. He opened his own studio in 1860, even though the Boston City Directory already listed fifty daguerreotypists and twelve photographers. Over his long career, Marshall took pictures of many Boston businessmen, politicians, artists, authors, and distinguished visitors to the city. Among his subjects were Oliver Wendell Holmes, Theodore Parker, William Morris Hunt, Teresa Carreño (then a child-pianist), William Lloyd Garrison, John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Ward Beecher, and the Alcott family (Louisa May Alcott wrote of the image he took of her: “His pictures are vile”).

Marshall photographed famous Civil War soldiers, and for a number of years, published a book of portrait photos of each member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. During the 1870s, he specialized in portraits reproduced on porcelain plates, which enjoyed great popularity.  Marshall worked until a week before his death at age 81 in 1916, gaining fame as “Boston’s oldest photographer”.


Comments are closed.