Vintage landscape: in May

The photo above is “In May” by Frances Stebbins Allen (1854-1941). It was taken ca. 1900.

Allen and her sister, Mary Electa Allen, of Deerfield, Massachusetts, were among the finest early pictorial photographers in America (also see here).

They were probably taught the craft by their brother, a civil engineer. When they both went deaf in the 1880s and had to leave their jobs as teachers, they turned their new skill into a business.

They capitalized on their town’s growing importance in the arts and crafts movement of the region and specialized in pictures of historic Deerfield — often staging genre scenes.

With the invention of the halftone in 1888, which allowed photographs to replace wood engravings as printed illustrations, they sold many pictures to magazines. This one, of “colonial glassware,” was taken by Frances for an 1898 article in House Beautiful magazine.

Both photos above were part of a large group of “artistic photographs” by early women photographers that was donated to the Library of Congress by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

Among the collection are some lovely landscapes captured by artists whose names are now unknown.

“Landscape of sand dunes,” photographer unknown, ca. 1900.

“Landscape of a field with a hill in background,” photographer unknown, ca. 1900.

“Landscape of trees and meadow with irises in foreground,” photographer unknown, ca. 1900.

In the spring of 1900, some of these photos may have been among an exhibition of work by American women photographers that Johnston created for the Exposition universelle internationale in Paris.

To scroll through larger versions of the images, click on any thumbnail in the gallery below.

Available . . .

This was a small advertising poster for Frances Benjamin Johnston’s photography business in 1895, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

I think the image of a woman striding into the landscape with a case of tools in hand (and others tucked firmly under her arm) must have been quite a bold one for that time (although she was well supported by her sleeves).

The artwork was by Mills Thompson.


“Milkweed” by Mary Frances Carpenter Paschall, 1900. Part of a collection of “artistic photographs” by early women photographers donated to the Library of Congress by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

. . . I look down now. It is all changed.
Whatever it was I lost, whatever I wept for
Was a wild, gentle thing, the small dark eyes
Loving me in secret.
It is here. At a touch of my hand,
The air fills with delicate creatures
From the other world.

James Wright, “Milkweed,” The Branch Will Not Break