Daguerreian Society

I've been a bit lax recently in preparing and sending DagNews, but today's post 
was made easy for me by Steve Knoblock.  This text is from "The Employments of 
Women: A Cyclopaedia of Woman‚s Work" by Viriginia Penny (Boston: Walker, Wise, 
& Company, 1863) pp. 53-55.  This volume contains over five hundred pages of 
jobs deemed "suitable" for nineteenth-century women. You may read the original 
text of this volume at the Making of America collection:

   Both this text and another chapter from the same text, "Photographists and 
Colorists" are available on Steve Knoblock's "City Gallery" web site at:
- - - - - - - - -

The Employments of Women.

  44. Daguerreans.  The process consists in concentrating the light of the sun 
on a metal plate, so prepared by chemical as to retain the impression of an 
image that falls upon it.  The shadow catcher has become almost interwoven with 
the every-day realities of life.  Prof. Draper speaks of daguerreotyping as 
introducing a beautiful work, in which, "the fair sex may engage without 
compromising a single delicate quality of woman's nature."  Some artists, not 
content with moving in the ordinary way from place to place, have cars built 
that roll on wheels and are drawn by horses.  The daguerrean sleeps in his 
little home, and, on the road, far away from a good tavern, can even do his own 
cooking, or have it done, in his car.  The business has also been carried on by 
men in small boats, floating down rivers and stopping at villages and farm 
houses.  It requires taste and judgment both to make an operator and to color.  
Colorers of photographs could, if skillful and constantly employed, earn $30 a 
week in large cities.  An operator, if busy, works from 9 to 5 o'clock in 
winter.  A wonderful improvement has taken place in the daguerrean art since its 
discovery.  A lady daguerrean and photographer writes me: "Ladies are employed 
in the business as operators, and to superintend; also to repaint and retouch 
photographs.  With care in the use of chemicals, I do not consider it 
particularly unhealthy; less so, I think, than sewing by hand or machine.  No 
person will do well for himself, herself, or patrons, who commences business 
without a good knowledge of it.  The time of learning will depend upon the 
individual's knowledge of the sciences bearing of photography, and their talent 
for the business.  It would vary from two weeks to three months.  The labor of 
the learner is usually given while learning, and from $25 to $100 besides.  
Spring and fall are the best seasons, summer the poorest; but there is no time 
during the year in which there is not something to do.  I operate and 
superintend in my own establishment, and hire a boy only, who does chores.  The 
principal discomforts (being usually and necessarily near the roof), the smell 
of chemicals (which do not unpleasantly affect any one), and the soiling of 
clothing, which is more unavoidable with women.  The amount of business, and 
consequently the location, decide the profits of the business.  As the business 
is attended with considerable expense, it is necessary, in order to make it pay, 
to seek a good location.  It is profitable when a person is well established in 
a desirable location.  I think ladies and children usually prefer a lady artist.  
Upon the whole, I think the business quite as suitable for women as men.  There 
is generally more or less spare time, but a woman is most apt to occupy such 
time with fancy or reading."  A daguerrean writes: "Women are sometimes employed 
in the reception room to receive ladies--occasionally, in the operating room.  
They receive from $3 to $8, according to capacity and address.  Men generally 
command better prices, because they can sometimes perform labor out of a woman's 
sphere, such as unpacking goods, carrying packages, and other jobs, not suitable 
for women.  I think the business as healthy as any indoor business.  It requires 
from six to twelve months to learn the duties of the operating room; for the 
reception room, from one to three weeks.  Industry, patience, perseverance, 
shrewdness, and suavity of manners, are the necessary qualifications.  Prospect 
for employment poor, as prices are reduced to almost nothing.  All seasons are 
nearly alike.  November and June are dull.  Our women work in summer from seven 
A. M. to six P. M.  The work averages about eight hours per day the year 
through.  Men are superior in patience(?) and force of character.  Women are 
easily discouraged, and liable to be petulant.  In many instances, there is much 
running up and down stairs, which is harder on women than men.  And there is too 
much standing for a woman's health." 

A few notes by Steve Knoblock:
   "The Employments of Women" was published in 1863 and is one of the earliest 
women's employment guides to offer hints to prospective lady daguerreans.  It is 
interesting to note the editorial question mark added by the compiler, a women, 
to the male daguerrean's statement that "Men are superior in patience(?) ..." 
   By the 1860s, almost any type of photographer was referred to as a 
"Daguerrean."  (The spelling preferred by photography historians is 
"Daguerreian").  Most of those so-called by this late a date probably never made 
a daguerreotype, but were most likely producing ambrotypes or tintypes (in the 
case of the itinerant photographer).  Most would be operating carte galleries by 
this time or resigned from the business of photography.  The male contributor 
sounds like a disgruntled daguerreotypist bemoaning the carte de visite for 
prices that "are reduced to almost nothing." 
   Virginia Penny's descriptions of the itenerient daguerreian and the position 
in society of the women photographer are valuable historic records, although she 
probably would not have given much thought to them as such.  Her observations 
ascribed to daguerreans probably applies to the daguerreotype or ambrotype trade 
as well, which was still being engaged in by a few photographers at the time of 
Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

Return to: DagNews 1998

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