These charming studio portraits are the nearest thing to baby pictures that exist for Fern Lavonne Thoma, whose birth was celebrated one hundred and seven years ago today. Born to George Hiram and Anna Leota (Fenton) Thoma on 30 September 1907 in Sioux City, Woodbury, Iowa, she was named Fern Neilson in her birth record;1 for reasons yet unknown, her father used an alias for a period of time. By the time these photographs were taken, however, Fern was about two years old, and may well have had no recollection of ever being named anything but Fern Thoma.
In the first photograph, Fern poses with a rustic iron piece that looks like a rather uncomfortable type of corner chair. Her head barely reaches the top of the frame as she stands beside it, and she clutches something small in her hand, perhaps a treat to entice her to stand still. The second child and first daughter born to her parents, Fern is dressed beautifully in an immaculate white dress complete with ruffles and eyelet trim. Whites and creams in soft fabrics were popular choices for small girls at the tail end of the Edwardian era.2 Fern’s dress falls above the knees, revealing black stockings and shiny black shoes. The golden curls about her face evidently took some care, and she peers at the camera with an impish grin and bright blue eyes.
Fern’s expression is more demure in the second photograph, in which she is perched atop the iron chair and gazes away from the camera. She has evidently tried her best to keep her small hands still in her lap, as a gold bracelet, clamped around one chubby forearm, is more visible in this photograph. So, too, is the lovely floral eyelet trim of her dress. This photograph has a softer focus, likely unintentional but rather caused by Fern’s motion.
A photographer by the name of Phelps penciled his name below these photographs on their original cream-colored mats. An inscription by Fern’s mother on the back of one suggests that the family was living in Basset, Rock, Nebraska, at this time, although it’s also possible that the photographs were taken in Sioux City before the family moved west.
These are darling portraits of an Edwardian toddler, and provide evidence that even an average Midwestern family would have known how to fashionably style a little girl for a photograph. However, one can easily imagine the off-screen coaxing by both photographer and mother that certainly must have taken place in order to convince this active toddler to be still!