Thursday, May 5, 2011

Seems It Actually Was a Wig

I found an original print (but not the negative) of Anna Douglass's portrait:

The Frederick Douglass Collection at the Moorland-Spingarn Center of Howard University has a lovely series of photographs, including the carte de visite of this image. Looking closely at Anna's hairline in the image (which is much easier when the object is actually in your hand), you can see that the part of her hair rests just a fraction above her scalp and does not meet her forehead. Is her hair braided underneath, or cut close? Was she balding? In the actual photo, you can see that the material of her dress is overlaid with lace, and she seems to have a watch chain fixed near her lapel. So, how did this hairstyle fit into her presentation of herself?

Also, the image is not as early as I expected. She appears so young in this picture that I had assumed that it was taken in the 1840s. Of course, I was also assuming it was a daguerreotype. The carte de visite in the collection at Howard was dated 1874. 

The collection also contains and amazing photo album filled with pictures of Douglass children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and I must have spent the entire afternoon absorbed in the images. One photo showed a very young Rosetta Douglass at maybe 10 years old, with two little ponytails. Another showed a very angry and equally terrified girl of about 1 who, as the images in the album advanced, grew into a lithe young woman and mother of a baby in a later photo. They were one of Rosetta's daughters and grandchild.

The archivists have identified another photo as Nathan Sprague, Rosetta's husband. I have not encountered any other photos of him with the possible exception of a photograph of the Douglass home on A Street in Washington, D.C., which shows two men standing in the yard, one presumably Douglass and the other supposedly Sprague. The features of both are unclear.

I first thought the portrait was of Jermain Loguen (who had a daughter, Amelia, who married Lewis Douglass, Frederick's son), who had a similarly square jaw, but the type of print and the age of the sitter suggested a younger man. Then, I saw the portraits of Rosetta's daughters. They look nothing like her and everything like this man. Also, when I got home and pulled up a picture of Loguen, I realized that they look very little alike except for a strong jawline.

Another portrait included four of Rosetta's daughters and one of her granddaughters with what appeared to be an interracial couple identified only as Mr. and Mrs. Bruce. He was too young to have been Blanche K. Bruce. The picture looks like it was taken in the parlor at Cedar Hill.

Several unidentified women appeared in the album. I wondered if one of the portraits of a white lady in a hoop skirt was Julia Griffiths.

In any case, I shall turn to their collections for several of the images for the book.


  1. I'm researching the Blackall family of Rochester, NY - Burton Francis (whom Douglass calls Frank in letters) and Sarah Colman Blackall. Their children were Minnie (married a Bishop), Robert, Gertrude and Florence. If you run across these names, let me know. I still haven't found any photos of them either. I'm enjoying your blog!

  2. Hi Sally! Was Sarah in any way related to Lucy Newall Colman (would have been through marriage)? The other names sound familiar from the Post Papers. I'll look back through my notes and keep my eye open for them.