Friday, October 5, 2012

Fashionable Friday - Civil War Era Vergennes, VT Woman

Unidentified 1860's Vergennes, VT woman
Today's Fashionable Friday is a little bit of a head-scratcher for me.  At first glance I was sure this CDV was taken in the early to mid 1860's.  Her dress and hair both pointed to this conclusion.  The style is very reminiscent of what was popular around 1863 as is evidenced in photograph number 2 below. Both have the low shoulder seam that was so common in that era.  It is difficult to tell from this scan that the card has slightly rounded corners that suggest a later date, perhaps 1869 or 1870.  I can only surmise one of two things; either this woman was still wearing the earlier 1860's style at the end of the decade perhaps due to the economic hardships of the aftereffects of the Civil War, or the photographer remounted an earlier photo on a newer card for the customer.  

The photographer as evidenced on the back was J. H. Stearns of Vergennes, VT.  After a little research I determined this was Joseph H. Stearns born ca 1819 in Vermont.  He is found in both the 1860 and 1880 Addison County, VT censuses married to wife Amanda.  In 1860 he listed his occupation as "artist" and in 1880 as "photographer."  Waltons Vermont Register & Farmers Almanac, 1877 listed him as one of two of the city of Vergennes' photographers.  According to this very interesting article at he participated in mapping Vermont between 1854-1859 in "extraordinary detail" with other mapmakers.  "The results of this work were eleven large wall maps which pictured the state of Vermont in remarkable detail."  He is credited on the surface of the Addison County map as "Daguerrean Artist" J. H. Stearns and thirteen views of his photographs of local homes and businesses with names of property owners adorn the map.  I found a mention of his wife's death in 1882 in the Vermont Chronicle but nothing more of Mr. Stearns after that.

Unidentifed early 1860's woman
October 1862 Peterson's Magazine


  1. That is a puzzle. I am learning a lot about fashions through the ages and dating photos. Now I want to look at my oldest photos more closely.

  2. Do you suppose fashions changed more slowly back then? I don't know, but I DO know that I'm very glad I don't have to spend my time in outfits like these ladies have on -- talk about making life more difficult!


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