No. 490
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
September 29, 2020

Society Unveiled.

February 3, 2014
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Chapter 2
 Asbury Park Press, July 7, 1968, via Newspapers.comWith some missing-persons cases, there are so few clues, it is difficult to even theorize how the victim came to disappear. With others, investigators believe they “know” what happened, but are unable to prove it. This sinister mystery below is among the latter. In January 1968, Rose Bottazzi of Brick Township, New Jersey, had been happily
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Strange Company - 9/28/2020


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A CHAMPIONSan Francisco ChronicleOctober 12, 1898(Click image to enlarge)     ASCOMB IS A CHAMPION    Guess Bascomb Smith wasn't all bad. The texts of the newspaper appear below.  Miss Hall finds a champion. Brother of  “ Soapy” Smith claims her as his wife.There is another side to the pathetic story told to the police by Minnie Hall, the Vaudeville actress to jump into the bay from Howard
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 9/25/2020
Painter Jack Lubin, born in New York in 1907, might be best known as an abstract-style muralist. Two murals this WPA artist painted in a garment district building were removed by developers in 2011, and a mural he completed in 1956 in the Statler Hotel in Dallas was rediscovered and restored in 2012. In 1938, […]
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Ephemeral New York - 9/28/2020

Colorization can sometimes add another whole dimension to vintage black and white photos. We’ve done this one of the crime …

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Lizzie Borden : Warps & Wefts - 8/31/2020
American justice is largely fair and impartial, but it is not perfect; sometimes mistakes are made. It is always disturbing when an innocent person is unjustly punished, but it is far more common for a guilty party to be set free. When the crime in question is murder, this result can be equally disturbing. In the nineteenth century (as now) accused murderers were tried in the court of public
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Murder by Gaslight - 9/26/2020
From Voice Of America news, dateline Saturday, September 28, 2014: A Somali woman has been publicly stoned to death for being married to several men at the same time. The 33-year-old woman was put to death Friday in the southern coastal town of Barawe, which is controlled by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab. The woman […]
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ExecutedToday.com - 9/26/2020
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
The Southern Pacific Railway Disaster. | A Memphis Badger Game.

Society Unveiled.

nine naughty girlsWheeling, West Virginia, 1882, Nine naughty society girls disrobe for the nation's latest craze, nude photography. [more]

The National Night Stick has previously reported on a group of a society girls who scandalized Boston by posing naked for a local photographer. A little further digging revealed that this was not an isolated incident, but just the most notorious case of what was, in the 1880s, a national trend. Said one reporter in 1888, “The latest fad, or rather ‘craze’ (for nothing in the long list of fashion’s freaks has ever shown such a total and meaningless disregard of the social proprieties), is photographing ‘in the nude.’”

Usually the pictures remained a secret between the girls and their close friends, but when the secret was uncovered it always raised a scandal. In 1882 a group of nine society girls of Wheeling, West Virginia, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, who “…mourned that the greater part of their beauties must be concealed from the gaze of their friends” visited a photographer to remedy the situation. They did not pose totally naked; they brought with them three yards of gauze and their nudity “was beautifully dimmed but not hidden by the netting.” When the session was over each girl left with a small package of cartes de visite, displaying their charms.

They discretely handed out the cards to their friends but the situation did not remain discrete for long. Wheeling was scandalized. As would later happen in Boston, the girls were unrepentant and the blame was laid on the photographer.

In 1888 anti-vice crusader, Anthony Comstock seized a large number of “glaringly and shockingly improper pictures” from an amateur photographer in Brooklyn named Brown. The subjects of many of these pictures were “young ladies of previously unimpeached respectability, moving in Brooklyn’s best society.” Brown told contradictory stories on how he obtained them.

This time the girls denied everything saying the pictures must have been altered, putting their heads on other bodies. This trick had been tried unsuccessfully in London when a photographer was arrested for putting the head of actress Mary Anderson on an obscene body. Photography expert T. C. Roche said that without a collar or necklace to hide the splice line, the sham would be easily detectable. “[not] any trick invented will enable a rascal to make an indecent picture of a girl without her complicity.”

At the same time as the nude photography fad, Anthony Comstock’s war on vice had become so invasive that a photographer in San Francisco was arrested for having a nude picture of his baby boy. Photographers did not put their names on nude photographs and most would not admit to taking them. All who were interviewed, though, claimed that women were constantly asking to be photographed in some degree of nudity.

Mrs. Cleveland

Those who did admit it told quite a story. One New York photographer in 1888 estimated that 8000 nudes had been taken in the previous eighteen months, “Of these one-half have been girls and women who belong to what is called respectable society; the other half have belonged to the legion of the lost.” The Wheeling photographer said this about his high society subjects, “…you couldn’t have an idea of how beautiful they are till they’re stripped. Very ordinary society ladies have surprised me when they’ve stood before me in a state of nudity by the unsuspected beauties they possess.”

If any of these high society nude photographs have survived into the twenty-first century we will probably never know. Without clothing it is hard to tell who is in society and who is in the “legion of the lost.”

 

 


 Sources:

  • "Nine Naked Beauties." The National Police Gazette 25 Nov 1882: 3.
  • "The Gay Girls of Wheeling." The National Police Gazette 2 Dec 1882.
  • David Wechsler. "Photographic Tricks." Patriot 12 Nov 1888: 3.
  • "Vain Young Women." Kansas City Star 4 Jun 1888.
  • "Girls in Scant Attire." Denver Rocky Mountain News 29 Apr 1888: 4.
  • William E. S. Fales. "The Vanity of Vanities." Patriot 20 Jul 1888.
  • "The War on the Nude." Evening Star 16 Jul 1884.