Saturday, December 28, 2013

Actresses & Spies

Mrs. George H. Gilbert

Vinnie (Hoxey) Ream

Mrs. Henry Wager Halleck

Portraits of Civil War-era women, from a collection of glass-plate negatives in the Library of Congress. Ordinary women seldom appear in this archive of the 1860s. The women who do appear come from opposite poles of the social world. One group would have been rooted in the Establishment of the time, like Mrs. Halleck (immediately above), wife of a staff general in Lincoln's army. Such women were prominent because the males around them were prominent. But the majority of the women in the archive were not prominent political wives or heiresses, but actresses and dancers. They needed photo-portraits for practical, commercial reasons  to spread their reputations and secure bookings.

Ella Jackson

Agnes Perry

The two women below were celebrities of a different order. The Brady Handy collection preserves the information that Pauline Cushman and Belle Boyd became photograph-worthy because they were both spies. Pauline Cushman spied for the Union, Belle Boyd for the Confederacy.

Pauline Cushman

Belle Boyd
One fashion note  the prevailing female silhouette of the day consistently shortened the torso and widened the shoulders, creating an outline for the upper body that now appears deliberately squat. It almost looks as if the mid-19th century fashionable female torso was modeled on a horizontal rectangle, while the 20th century fashionable female torso rotated 90 degrees to become a vertical rectangle.