This photograph may have been taken in Yankton, the onetime capital of Dakota Territory located a dozen or so miles east of the family’s homestead. Christine’s hair is styled in true 1880s fashion with frizzled bangs – which could not have been easy to achieve – and a smooth high bun.3 She wears what looks to be a heavy pleated dress with velvet panels adorning the bodice vertically from shoulder to waist.4 The same velvet trims the collar and cuffs, where a white under-layer peeks out. No fewer than twelve large buttons adorn her dress, and a horizontal pin is affixed to the stylish high collar. Christine is clearly corseted to enhance her hourglass figure.5
Christine married in the spring of 1890 at the age of twenty-one; her wedding portrait suggests that she was a bit younger when this photograph was taken.6 My guess is that she was about eighteen, give or take a year, dating this photograph circa 1886-1888. Although green cardstock, as seen on this cabinet card, technically peaked in popularity several years earlier,7 another photograph from my personal collection with cardstock of the same dark green color dates to approximately 1889. Its popularity may well have been ongoing, at least in the Midwest.
Christine almost certainly sewed her dress herself, likely in the company of her mother and older sister, and she stands so as to display it to its best advantage. A subtle painted backdrop nearly touches the floor behind her as she rests her left hand on the back of an upholstered chair, gazing into the distance. In spite of her rural upbringing, Christine strikes an elegant pose, demonstrating that the latest fashions had found a place even in Dakota Territory.
1 “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 June 2014), manifest, S.S. Allemannia, Hamburg, Germany, to New York, arriving 30 June 1870, Christe Schmidt; citing National Archives microfilm publication M237, roll 331, line 38.
2 Jens Madsen Schmidt (Bon Homme County) homestead file, final certificate no. 124, Springfield, South Dakota, Land Office; Land Entry Papers, 1800-1908; Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
3 Maureen Taylor, Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900 (United States: Picture Perfect Press, 2009), 102-103.
4 Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1997), 424.
5 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 379.
6 Wedding Portrait of Fred and Christine [Schmidt] Nelson, South Dakota, March 1890; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.
7 Maureen A. Taylor, Family Photo Detective (Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2013), 52.