By this point, it has been well publicized that this month of August 2020 marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing woman suffrage and that this amendment is commonly referred to as the “Susan B. Anthony amendment.”
Who of you reading this article, however, knows that the last professional photographs of Susan B. Anthony were taken by Grace Woodworth, who was born in Seneca Falls and spent the majority of her life there?
Grace Adelle Woodworth was born in Seneca Falls on March 17, 1872, to Edna A. Miller Woodworth and Josiah C. Woodworth, a dry goods merchant. Grace had an older sister, Jeannie; a younger sister, Edith; and a brother, Elmer. The family lived at 60 Cayuga St.
Josiah Woodworth apparently made a strong impression on his daughter. He was a descendant of a Revolutionary War patriot and a self-made man. Woodworth was only 8 years old when her father’s dry goods business failed. Her father then became a traveling agent for two companies until his retirement in 1890. Woodworth did not judge her father to be a failure, but rather a man whose willingness to work for others suggested flexibility and adaptability.
Her mother, Edna A. Miller, was Josiah’s second wife and the sister of Josiah’s first wife, who had died. A family member described Edna as a “lady,” meaning “she didn’t do any work, had servants, and never raised her voice.” This relative added that Edna “never quite approved of her daughter’s work [as a professional photographer], wishing instead that the girl had grown into the role of a lady.”
For much of Woodworth’s childhood, the family led a comfortable middle class life and she had fond memories of her childhood. A few things are known about her youth in Seneca Falls. Her father neither drank nor smoked, which perhaps helped motivate her to become active in the Seneca Falls Christian Temperance Union. Her father also was interested in learning, and in 1858 recorded that he had 83 books in his library. She liked to read, dance (especially square dancing) and paint.
In a 1963 interview for the Geneva Times when she was 81, Woodworth recalled how her brother put his feet through some of her paintings as they leaned against a fence. She attended the public schools in Seneca Falls and graduated from Mynderse Academy (the public high school in Seneca Falls) in 1890. One biographer characterized her as having a restless, adventurous spirit. A close relative described Woodworth as an “individualist,” not a feminist nurtured and sustained by memories of the Seneca Falls woman’s rights convention of 1848.
Woodworth never married, as was true of her older sister Jeannie. While the “ideal” for a woman in 1890 (the year she graduated from Mynderse Academy) might well have been to marry and maintain a middle class family lifestyle, only three of her 13 graduating classmates had married by 1904. This likely reflects the changing perception of a “woman’s proper role” that was taking place in the United States at the time. More and more women were working in publicly recognized occupations outside the home in 1904. Like teaching, photography was a profession that was “open” to single women.
Photography came naturally to Woodworth. She first worked for a photographer in Batavia doing retouching work. Soon, other photographers who saw the young lady’s work told her she was good enough to strike out on her own. In 1897 — at age 25 — she did just that when she purchased the studio of George H. Richards in Union Springs. At that time, photography was one of only a few professions or businesses in which a woman could easily engage. The photography business also provided the opportunity to roam a little, as she could fairly easily take her photography equipment with her as she moved to another community.
The Union Springs Advertiser of May 13, 1897, stated, “Miss Woodworth is a young lady of several years [sic] experience in the photographic business and in conducting a first class studio, here gives to the public an opportunity to obtain photos in any of the latest styles or finish, at the lowest prices that first class work can be made. You are invited to call at the studio and examine work, and also to become acquainted.”
Heading to Rochester
Her desire to “roam” came rather quickly, in that she was gaining a reputation as a good photographer. In 1899 Woodworth purchased the Rochester photography gallery of Ranger and Whitmore at 30 E. Main St. Her move from her Union Springs studio to Rochester was significant on two levels. First, socially this change from a small town to a large city brought a range of diverse people and economies into her life. Second, the large, bustling city enabled her to have access to and be influenced by a large, vibrant arts community. In the 10 years she lived in Rochester, the city’s population jumped from 163,000 to 218,000 people.
While in Rochester, Woodworth boarded at five different addresses. One of these was the home of a Quaker family on Alexander Street. Attending Unitarian services with that family, she met Susan B. Anthony, who attended services at that same church and was a family friend. After that first meeting, Woodworth described Anthony as “a sweet lovable lady with cordial family manner and wonderful smile that relieved her rather severe mouth and square chin. Her blue eyes behind her spectacles were keen and kind and her voice gentle.”
Woodworth was not the only female photographer in Rochester. In 1907 there were 43 practicing photographers listed in the city business directory, six of them female. This was also the time that “amateur photography” was beginning because of the Eastman Kodak company.
A 1905 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper article carried the headline “A Woman Who Photographs” and went on to state:
“Miss Grace A. Woodworth is one of Rochester’s most successful photographers, her talents in portraiture having built up a large patronage for her studio in all branches of photographic work. She has, however, been particularly successful with children, the little ones regarding a visit to her studio as a real treat, with the result that the portraits are natural and pleasing … Miss Woodworth is particularly apt in the portraiture of women’s costumes, her knowledge of women’s wishes being greatly appreciated, and Easter time usually brings a large number of ladies to her to be photographed in the new gowns of the season.”
Given her clear professional success, an obvious question is: Why did she continue to board with families rather than establish her own home? In one of her journal entries she wrote about her “boarding,” but she crossed out that word and replaced it with “living with friends.” Could her failure to purchase a home have been evidence that she didn’t intend to spend the rest of her life in Rochester?
At the time she was gaining fame in Rochester, Woodworth was also very active in the Photographers’ Association of America. Soon after her last year of membership while living in Rochester (1908), the Association established a formal section for women only for the “purpose of advancing their art.” When she moved back to Seneca Falls in 1911, Woodworth, however, did resume her membership and active participation in this Photographers’ Association of America. Various newspaper articles report that she attended most of the group’s annual conventions.
Woodworth’s most famous photographs were from her 1905 series of suffragist Susan B. Anthony and Anthony’s sister, Mary. Woodworth was commissioned by the Rochester Political Equality Club to photograph the Anthony sisters for a program celebrating Susan B. Anthony’s 85th birthday in February 1905. In a 1963 interview by a Geneva Times writer, Woodworth explained how she came to photograph the sisters.
It all came about during Woodworth’s first visit to the Anthony home when she stated that she wanted to photograph Anthony, who replied that “she and her sister were too old for any more pictures.” They continued to talk about Anthony’s trip abroad and of her many visits to Seneca Falls, especially to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home. “Then, unexpectedly Miss Anthony told me that because I was from Seneca Falls and because I was a woman in business, they [Miss Anthony and her sister] would come to my studio and have me make the appointed last photographs” of the two. Woodworth offered to have a carriage transport the two Anthony sisters to her studio, but Anthony refused, saying they would simply come by streetcar. (This was the same means of transportation in November 1872 on which Anthony was transported when she was arrested for illegally voting).
Woodworth later described the experience as follows:
“They [Susan and Mary Anthony] came exactly at the time appointed. Miss Anthony wore her velvet dress with the old rose point lace, which she told me she had had for 22 years. Her white hair was parted in the middle and rolled over her side combs, and over her shoulder, she wore her well-known little red shawl, under her black silk wrap. She laid aside her bonnet very carefully and said “now you must make us look very handsome” and we started to work. I made photographs of both Miss Susan and Miss Mary separately and together. When Miss Anthony thought I had exposed the last plate she dropped into the relaxed attitude of the pose her friends chose. The reporters heard of the making of the negatives, it’s a way they have, and there was an avalanche of calls for prints, but I had promised Miss Anthony the inspection of the proofs before any were finished. When I took them to her she said she could not tell how she looked and asked me to take them to Mr. & Mrs. Garnett, a Unitarian minister to select one. I have several personal letters from Miss Anthony. One concerning the photographs, she says, “Your photographs of my sister Mary and me together are excellent, but those taken separately it seems to me are not so perfect. The fault was in both of ourselves, not in the picture taker, unless you could have made us look better and different, but they please the friends exceedingly and it is the friends who are the best judges after all. They are beautifully taken, if you succeed as well with others you will give the best of satisfaction. Yours sincerely, Susan B. Anthony.”
That session turned out to be the last formal photographs taken of Susan B. Anthony. Woodworth had encouraged Anthony to come down for more photos for which she could sit or stand for some pictures full length, but Anthony declined, saying, “I am too lazy to get dressed and go down to your studio, buy maybe if I live till warm weather comes I will accomplish the feat.”
Of the photos of the two Anthony sisters taken that day, one reporter said, “They look like a formidable pair.” Woodworth later said that she “remembers both as sweet and kindly. Certainly their courage shows through in the portrait.” The reporter went on in his article to say that “votes for women was a Pullman car joke in those days, but as Miss Woodworth says, people today live in a better world for their efforts; voting was just a symbol of a whole code of oppressions that women struggled against.” In that same article the reporter said that Woodworth was inspired by Anthony to embrace the suffrage cause. Woodworth told the reporter, “She [Susan B. Anthony] gave me the feeling of wanting to do something worthwhile and also the feeling that I had the ability to do it.” Anthony referred to Grace Woodworth as “my photographer.”
In her notes, Woodworth described her work as follows: “The images in the photographs have a ‘soft focus, pulled over a narrow depth of field, [which] adds to the inwardness of the image, the figures emerging from the dark in the period’s popular ‘Rembrandt Effect.’” Apparently Woodworth deliberately positioned the solo photos of Susan B. Anthony to be “slightly off center, bothersomely crowding the side of the frame to create subtle discomfort in viewing the picture.” This helped to portray Anthony as a “tired, dignified lady.”
In gratitude, Anthony gave Woodworth a two-volume edition of Anthony’s life, and inscribed on the flyleaf of Volume I, “As a slight token of my thankfulness for the beautiful photographs of myself and my sister Mary, I present these volumes. Affectionately yours, Susan B. Anthony,” Volume II contained this inscription: “This is given in slight recognition of my pleasure at your success in the art of photography. I rejoice over every young woman who achieves an accomplishment outside the common lines. With the best wishes of your friend, Susan B. Anthony.”
(Almost 20 years later, Woodworth received from author Ida Husted Harper the third volume of the Anthony biography, which included Woodworth’s photograph of Anthony).
Gable is the Seneca County historian.