Educating Women Photographers and Their Associates

Photographer Toni Frissell, with several children standing around her as she shows and talks about her camera, 1945, in an unidentified place in Europe; Toni Frissell photograph collection (, reproduction # LC-DIG-ds-07093 (digital file from b&w film negative), Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

As early as 1863 the employment of women as photographers was included in a wonderful work called The Employments of Women: a Cylocpaedia of Woman’s Work (Boston: Walker, Wise & Co., 1863). It was compiled by a woman named Virginia Penny, who was a southerner, born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 18, 1826.

This publication categorized interviews Perry gathered, into sections and chapters including women employed as (44.) Dagererreans [sic] and Colorists, as (84.) Photographists and Colorists, which were classified under “Artists,” and as (#479) workers in the manufacture of photograph equipment and Daguerrreotype Apparatus, classified under “Miscellaneous Occupations.”

Virginia Penney dedicated this book “To Worthy and Industrious Women in the United States, Striving to Earn a Livelihood….” She wrote in the Preface that ….”plans need to be devised, pursuits require to be opened, by which women can earn a respectable livelihood.” She focused on the fact that the men have gone to war and the women “have lost or may loose their only support.”

Under the sections focusing on work or lack of work for women in particular areas, is (530.) “Openings in the South.” Within the three columns of work that was then, or would become available are Daguerreotype Apparatus, etc., and Photography.

In Georgia, women were often trained in photography or related profession by others, often their photographer fathers or brothers, or they could apprentice with an unrelated photographer. This is what one of the more successful of these apprentices, Jeannette Wilson (1871-1954), did. She studied with some very prominent Atlanta photographers from 1897 to 1899, including Mrs. Linnie Condon, C. W. Motes, and according to one news account, with W. E. Lenney.

Advertisement for Oak City Studio, Bainbridge, GA in Bainbridge Search Light, Aug. 22, 1902, pg.5, col. 4-5

She next went to work in the photo studio of W. L. Ricks in Quitman (see more on him below). After a year in his studio, in October 1901, Jeannette took over a photo gallery in Bainbridge, which she called the Oak City Studio. She also purchased a frame business in 1902. In January 1904, she sold that studio and moved to Jonesboro, Arkansas, then to Texas. By the time she came back to Georgia, she had married in 1915 to another photographer, Robert Travelute (1877-1942). The couple ran a photo studio in Moultrie, Georgia, from about 1925, until Robert’s death.

In Milledgeville, Georgia, a pair of sisters from a family of ten children, Della (1876-1971) and Florrie (1874 – 1952) Ellison (aka The Misses Ellison), took over McDannell & Fairfield’s photo studio as of October 1897, and ran it until late 1910. In late 1897 and into 1898, as preparation for studio work, Della went to Atlanta to apprentice with Charles F. McDannel (1867-1916). He was a photographer who, in addition to work in other cities, worked with his father-in-law, T. J. Fairfield for ten years, off and on, in Fairfield’s long-established Milledgeville studio (see my prior posts on this photo studio, including one about their skating rink!), before he left to work in Atlanta in October 1897.

In 1905, Della left the running of the photo gallery to her sister so she could attend The Southern School of Photography, in McMinnville, Tennessee. The School was formed in 1904, by William Spencer [W. S. “Dad”] Lively (1855 – 1944), a Tennessee photographer who came to McMinnville to open a studio in 1883. The School immediately accepted female as well as male students, and it did so until the School was forced to close by 1929, after a fire destroyed much of it. Lively, known for his “rapid method of instruction,” continued teaching across the country. For more on Dad Lively and the School, see Bob Gathany’s page on the man and the School.

In the early years, students came from Tennessee and other southern states, but as the School’s reputation grew, students came to The Southern School of Photography from all over the country. “Dad” Lively ran the school with teaching associates, first with W. G. McFadden, and his wife, Ethel Cook Lively playing significant roles. Their brochure advertised that “Special Care [is taken] For Ladies” and that “young lady roomers” were under the care of the couple Lively.

Another Georgia woman who attended the Southern School of Photography, Ethel Ricks (1880-1974), is listed in one of the school brochures, along with other graduates including five women, as an information contact for anyone considering a “Post Graduate Course” at the School.

Ethel would also have been an early attendee, probably sent by her brother, William L. Ricks (1876-1962). W. L. Ricks ran a photography studio in Valdosta from 1900 to 1940, and Ethel began working there in about 1904. She became her brother’s assistant in 1908. W. L. Ricks also ran a secondary studio in Quitman, where the family originated, from about 1900 – 1904, and he is listed in “Association Endorsements” for the Southern School of Photography as a representative of the Georgia Association of Photographers, he as secretary, and J. H. Orr, of Elberton, as Vice President.

Ethel Ricks moved to Atlanta by 1919, where she worked in the Alfa Lomax Studio as a photographer and retoucher through 1930 (The Southern School was recognized for its classes in retouching). I doubt that Della Ellison and Ethel Ricks were the only Georgia women who graduated from the Southern School of Photography. Because this School had an excellent reputation for its modern equipment and fine facilities, I know I will discover other Georgia women attendees.

Women attendees of The Southern School of Photography, McMinnville, TN ca. 1910; courtesy Bob Gathany

There were a few other school of photography in the South. [C.F.] Ray’s School of Photography in Asheville, North Carolina advertised in the St. Louis and Canadian Photographer, in December 1900. Ray also had a bookstore and a photo studio located at his “school.” J.W. [John William] Johnston’s “Correspondence School of Photography” was located in Savannah in 1917 (search his name in my posts for more). The Girls Industrial School in Denton Texas included Photography, which was not included with the “Arts” offerings to young women, but as a potential money-making skill (Sunny South, January 30, 1904, pg. 7).

There were many photography schools in other parts of the country — The Pacific School of Fine Art Photography was in Los Angeles, there were schools in Effingham, Illinois, in Philadelphia, in New York City, and in Brooklyn, NY, as well as in the state of New York.

In 1917, Berta Odom (1885-1976) attended a school in Rochester, New York called The Eastman School of Professional Photography. She is noted on the 1910 census as a photographer in Macon, and in 1915, it appears she worked with photographer Thurston Hatcher in Atlanta. Hatcher worked as a photographer in Macon from 1908 to 1912, and I believe he trained Berta Odom. She purchased the studio of J. W. Stephenson in Washington, Georgia, in July 1915, and in 1916, she returned to Macon and also opened a studio there before attending the Eastman School. She continued working in Georgia as a photographer for a few years after her June 1922 marriage to a Methodist minister, and in about 1925, moved to Florida to her husband’s new church.

One student wrote of the Eastman that “The purpose of the School is to make better photographers and to help them to make better profits, and if this service to the profession creates a demand for higher grade materials, the Eastman Company can only benefit as it maintains the superiority of its products” (Studio Light A Magazine for the Profession, 1915 by Sara F. T. Price)

Advertisement for the Illinois College of Photography in Camera Craft, November 1914, page 635; The school had new owners in November 1921, and closed due to the Depression in 1931.

The photography school I believe most likely inspired Lively to open his School of Photography in Tennessee, is the Illinois College of Photography, in Effingham, IL, sometimes called the Illinois School of Photography. Founded in 1893, by photographer Lewis H. Bissel, they focused on practical, vocational photo education and women were encouraged to attend.

The September 1918 issue of Camera Craft stated that the College then had “the largest roster of women in the history of the institution.” A fun item regarding the “girls” of the College getting a “large cannon” back, stolen by students of Austin College, wherein “Austin students were injured,” was reprinted in the Atlanta Constitution April 2, 1903, on page 1.

As far as any Georgia women who attended — I only know that in June 1904, H. W. Brown (1866-1940) and his wife, “Katy” Funk Brown, left their Tifton studio in the care of Etta Mae Hooks (1884-1935), while they traveled to see the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, and then to attend the “Illinois School of Photography” (Tifton Gazette, June 10, 1904 pg2 col.6). Hooks took a break from Brown’s, where she worked through 1911, to work for H.S Holland (1869-195) in Albany, Georgia for three years, 1906-1909. She is another former woman photographer who spent her last years in Florida.

There were other choices open to women to learn, other than attending a school of photography. For instance there were those offered in an educational institution as part of their curriculum. In 1890, The Georgia Institute Schools of Art and Design, with studios located in Atlanta’s Gould Building, offered Photo-Crayon, along with painting in oils and water colors as part of its “technical department” (Atlanta 1890 [Saunders] city directory, page 21). In 1899, the LaGrange Female College offered Photography as part of their curriculum for women, along with other education in arts and music (textual advertisement “53 Years Old and Still Growing” in the Atlanta Constitution, August 18, 1899, page 9).

Several advertisements appeared in newspapers and magazines for “home study” photography courses. The August 1901, the Ladies Home Journal ran an advertisement for the “American School of Art and Photography” in Scranton, PA, which “Taught by Mail.” They were still offering their home study photography courses six years later (February 1907 Pearson’s magazine advertisement, pg. 145).

Chapter section in the Ladies Manual of Art or Profit and Pastime, 1890

In 1918 (his only year in Macon), between April and September, photographer Louis Shapiro (b. 1884) advertised in the Macon Telegraph, in both Weekly and Sunday editions, that he would pay four “intelligent colored girls,” while learning the business of photography at his studio on Cherry Street. On July 10, he advertised for “an educated colored woman to act as foreman in a photo shop” if she came “highly recommended.” That fall, Shapiro advertised for “two colored girls” to work at the gallery and be “paid while learning.”

Books, and photo journals and magazines were another way to educate one’s self in photography, coloring, or retouching. One publication, the Ladies Manual of Art or Profit and Pastime (Donohue, Hennebury & Co. 1890, copyright 1887 by American Mutual Library Association) included instructions on the Art of Coloring (plus the Russian or Egyptian method), photo-painting in watercolor, the Gelatine [sic] Dry-Plate Process, the Oil-Photo including the Ivory-Type or Mezzotine, with directions for coloring, and the Oil-Photo Miniature, and Cameo-Oil-Improved Method.

There is so much more to write about the women in photography and associated fields and how they came to be professionals in Georgia. There is certainly more to write about those women included here, but there are not enough hours in the day….. I hope to write more posts about some of these women individually. Meanwhile, if you have comments, or corrections on this post, please contact me.

© E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author, is prohibited. With permission, excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering.


  1. Janet J. Tanksley · · Reply

    Lee, I vaguely remember talking with you many years ago, perhaps at a Genealogy Society of Georgia meeting, about my great uncle Albert Volberg. Albert was an artist and a photographer for the Atlanta Constitution in the late 1800s and very early 1900s. He died in 1904. This is the only way I have found to communicate with you.
    Janet Tanksley

    1. Hi — I have sent you a note to your email address. Look for it!

  2. As always, informative and thoroughly researched; an important photography topic that extends well beyond Georgia. Virginia Penny’s 1863 article was especially interesting.

    1. Sorry for the late reply, my first reply did not post for some reason. Yes, Penney was a very interesting person, she deserved more recognition and a better end. As always thanks so much for reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: