This glimpse into a backyard garden at the turn of the twentieth century features Fred and Emma (Stube) Wiese of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. Fred rests his hand on a trellis while Emma stands close by his side, her hand on her hip. Their arms barely brush together as they gaze directly at the camera.
Emma wears everyday attire in the form of a simple dark skirt and a collared shirtwaist. Her skirt is belted high, with an adornment of some kind at the center of the waistband. It looks to me like she could have been pregnant at the time that this photograph was taken, which seems entirely possible as she was pregnant no less than five times between 1887 and 1900.1
However, Emma’s sleeves are not nearly as full as those seen during much of the 1890s, nor are they as tight as those of the decade prior. Perhaps this suggests that the photograph dates closer to 1900,2 which is when her youngest child was born.3 She and her husband were both in their early thirties at this time, and I don’t feel that they could have been significantly younger in this photograph.4
Fred wears somewhat loose trousers and a collared shirt, set off by a buttoned vest and a checked bow tie. Most notably, he sports a full mustache, and what hair he has is cut short. With the exception of his pants, which typically would be more fitted, this, too, fits the time period.5
The photograph, pasted on an embossed white card, is clear and of good quality, despite the fact that it is a seemingly casual shot. Might it have been taken by a traveling photographer who passed through the neighborhood, offering his services? Fred and Emma are not dressed in their best, although their simple attire was certainly presentable enough for a photograph. Perhaps their urban garden was a source of pride, making it an ideal spot for the couple to pose together.
1 1910 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago Ward 27, enumeration district (ED) 1184, sheet 15-B, p. 9451 (handwritten), dwelling 254, family 306, Emma Wiese; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 February 2014), citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 270.
2 Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1997), 459.
3 1910 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago Ward 27, enumeration district (ED) 1184, sheet 15-B, p. 9451 (handwritten), dwelling 254, family 306, Leonard Wiese; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 February 2014), citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 270.
4 1900 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago Ward 14, enumeration district (ED) 453, sheet 9-A, p. 320 (stamped), dwelling 64, family 164, Fred Wiese; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 February 2014), citing National Archives microfilm publication T623, roll 623.
5 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 472.
What a wonderful photograph in a natural setting, as you said, possibly the pride of their garden…The photographer did a great job at keeping them at ease, as they don’t have that “frozen” look that so many do from those years. It feels as if you could actually walk right into the picture and speak with them! Thank you for sharing and offering your insights – nicely done : )
Thank you, Kim! I agree that the style of the photograph seems very natural and gives a much better feel for the couple than the typical studio portrait might have. Thanks for stopping by!
i wonder if that is their rain barrel in the lower left of the photo.
Good catch – I’ll bet that’s what it was!
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