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Five Sisters: 1850

Five Sisters: 1850

The Clark sisters circa 1850. Half-plate daguerreotype. Note on stationery of the Arts Club of Washington, in handwriting of Frances Benjamin Johnston, identifies sitters (l-r): "Aunt Harriet Allen, Aunt Ladonia Hoy, Grandma Joanette C-B, Aunt Julia Millard, Aunt Laura." (Harriet Elizabeth Clark Allen, 1818-1863; Ladonia Charlotte Clark Hoy, b. 1827; Joanette Clark Benjamin, c. 1814-1880; Juliaette Alcesta Clark, b. 1820; Laura Miles Clark Palmer, b. 1822.) View full size.



This photo is one of the portraits that most fascinate me. The pose so arranged, the textures of the dress (gorgeous!) The facial expressions of these women (now, dead), the gradations of gray, the wear suffered by the image and, of course, the desire to immortalize, explicit at each of the looks.

Go Grandma Joanette

Thanks Dave. Northerners then. And that's quite the picture of Grandma Joanette. Interesting contrast with her demeanor in the sister pic. When was this second one taken? (Sorry for all the questions--just too interesting, I guess!)


One of the many things that makes me thankful that I live in this day and age is that corsets are strictly optional! I wouldn't be smiling, either, if I had to spend my days bound up in one of those things. Those dresses don't look as though they were made for comfort, either. Grandma Joanette looks like she's wearing a set of quarterback's shoulder pads! To each her own.

Where from?

Any idea where this family is from? The stationery is from Washington -- are they as well? I was just trying to figure out what their fortunes might have been during the Civil War. Speculation, of course, but I'm a fan of that, as many others here seem to be as well.

[Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952, below, who captioned this photo) was a well-known photographer with a studio in Washington. The 1880 census shows a Ladonia Hoy (born c. 1828) living in Baltimore. There is a portrait of Joanette in the LOC archive that was taken in New York. - Dave]

Lanyards II

Or it could be a vial of smelling salts.

Four sisters and one mother?

Four are called aunts in the caption, but the one in the middle is "grandma" and probably mother to the other four. She does look older than the rest.

[You might want to do the math on those birth dates. Joanette is the grandmother of Frances (Fanny) Johnston, who wrote the caption. The others are Fanny's great-aunts. They are all sisters. - Dave]

What are those things?

Three of the sisters (center and to the right) have some kind of string or wire loop around their necks or attached to their dresses. That loop holds a small metal cylinder or ??? Any ideas?

No smiles

They sure don't look happy- but people never do in old photos.
Makes me wonder if they were always frowning back then.


They're ripcords for those corsets. Stand back!

Needle Cases

I agree, probably needle cases. I'm also guessing this is a rather well-to-do family, judging by the amazing garments and jewelry.


They look like sterling silver needle cases. My great-great-grandmother had one, with the lanyard.


You can definitely see the family resemblance.


I wish I could write up the thoughtful comment that this photo deserves, but right now all I can muster up is: "wow". Because... wow!

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