61 – The Journey of Ollie Monroe (part 1)

In today’s episode, we begin a journey with a photographer named Ollie Monroe.


Today we’re following the path of Olive Monroe’s career; our first stop is Kansas.

Kansas (Phase 1) 

Ollie Heighton Monroe starts her photography career before her marriage; here we see a reprint from 1910 for a notice that originally appeared in the newspaper for Miss Heighton’s photography studio.  It mentions getting a “perfect fac-simile of your “phiz”, a term I’d never heard before.

1885 notice reprinted in the Mound Valley newspaper in 1910
1885 notice reprinted in the Mound Valley newspaper in 1910 newspaper

10 years later, Mrs. Monroe is running photography studios in various towns in Kansas; here’s profile/writeup of local businesses for her studio in Oswege Kansas in 1895. Interestingly, it includes a photo of Ollie herself:

Oswego Independent, December 20, 1895
Oswego Independent (Oswego, Kansas),  December 20, 1895

Elyria, Ohio 

From Kansas, we now travel to Ohio, where Ollie Monroe lived for over a decade. While there, she ran not only a successful photo studio, but also for some of her years there also simultaneously ran a vaudeville and movie theatre.

Ad for photo novelities that are available at Mrs. O.H. Monroe's studio (from The Chronicle Telegram (Elyria, Ohio, October 28, 1902))
The Chronicle Telegram (Elyria, Ohio) October 28, 1902
Article about Mrs. Monroe building a theatre out of a livery stable, (from The Chronicle Telegram (Elyria, Ohio, August 14, 1907)
Headline and beginning of an article about Mrs. Monroe’s new theatre venture. The Chronicle Telegram (Elyria, Ohio),  August 14, 1907

Despite the fact that Mrs Monroe consistently calls herself Ollie (a shortened form of her middle name “Olive”, her family persists in calling her by her first name, “Libby”, whenever they put notices in the paper that they have been to visit her.

Social notice showing Mrs. Monroe's family called her Libby, not Ollie, (from The Chronicle Telegram (Elyria, Ohio, Decmeber 1, 1906))
The Chronicle Telegram (Elyria, Ohio), December 1, 1906

Kansas (Phase 2)

After leaving Ohio and briefly living in Seattle 1909, but 1910 Ollie Monroe is back in Kansas, opening up a series of studios again around the state, as well as managing a theatre again, this time in Coffeyville, Kansas:

Mention of Mrs. O.H. Monroe's photo studio and movie theatre (from Coffeyville Daily Herald (Coffeyville, Kansas), December 28, 1910)
Coffeyville Daily Herald (Coffeyville, Kansas), December 28, 1910


After just a few years, however, we find Ollie Monroe in Oklahoma, first in Bartlesville, and then later in Tulsa.

Notice for Christmas special at Mrs. O. H> Monroe's photo gasllery (from the Morning Examiner (Bartlesville, Oklahoma), December 13, 1914)
Morning Examiner (Bartlesville, Oklahoma), December 13, 1914

As mentioned in the podcast, in 1919 Ollie Monroe takes a cross-country trip by car with her son, daughter-in-law, and another family from Tulsa to California.

Notice for the Monroe family and friends road trip stopping in Coffeyville, Kansas (from the Coffeyville Daily Journal (Coffeyville, Kansas), July 29, 1919)
Coffeyville Daily Journal (Coffeyville, Kansas), July 29, 1919

To get a sense of what that kind of trip was like in the early 20th century, I highly recommend checking out the book By Motor to the Golden Gate by Emily Post wrote about her 1916 automobile trip from New York to California. More information about Emily Post’s book is available on the Emily Post website. You can also find a free copy of the book on the Internet Archive here.

By the 1920s, Ollie Monroe has joined son and their families in the Los Angeles area; she works as a photographer and lives in Calfornia  until her death in 1931.

But there’s more to come … much more! … about the  journey of Mrs. Ollie Monroe. That’s all coming in the next episode – stay tuned!

[Note: All the clippings are from Newspapers.com.]

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Welcome to Photographs, Pistols & Parasols, the podcast where we celebrate early women artisan photographers.

I’m your host, Lee McIntyre.

In today’s episode, we’re going to go on a journey along with a photographer named Ollie Monroe.

For more information about any of the women discussed in today’s episode, visit my website at p3photographers.net.

That’s letter “p”, number “3”, photographers “dot” net.


Hi everybody. Welcome to today’s episode of Photographs, Pistols & Parasols. Today’s we’re going to meet a woman name Ollie Monroe, a woman of infinite resolve and determination, whose career in photographer spans more than 4 decades!

Libbie Olive Heighton was born in the U.S., either in Ohio or Penn., dependig on which record we choose to use as our source belive, since it varies.

In any case, she was born in 1860, and in 1880, Miss Libby Heighton is living with her mother in Ohio, working as a dressmaker.

By the way, I should mention that although her first name was really Libby, she never uses that name herself as an adult. She prefers to go by Ollie, which was based on her middle name, Olive. However, my husband Chris and I noticed that whenever there are social notices in the newspaper about relatives coming to visit her, she is always referred to as Libby, not Ollie. However, since she referred to herself as “Ollie” (or “Mrs. O.H. Heighton” throughout her career) I will that name throughout this podcast.

Anyway, by 1885, she’s already established as Mound Valley, Kansas’ “best photographer”. One curious word I was not familiar with appears in one of her ads in the newspaper in 1885: it reads, “If you want a perfect fac-simile of your ‘phiz’ call on Miss Heighton.” “phiz” is slang for “physiognomy” (a person’s facial expression or features). I hadn’t hear that slang for “face” before, but apparently it was popular circa 1885.

Now, even after Ollie gets married to John R. Monroe on December 31, 1885, she continues her photographic career. “JR”, as he is known, is NOT a photographer either at the time of his marriage or later. And in fact, throughout the next 46 years, Mrs Ollie Monroe mosty runs her studios all on her own, although, as we’ll discover, she does occasionally have a business partner for brief periods.

Between 1885-1897 or so —- we’ll call this her first Kanasas phase — Mrs Ollie Monroe is busy establishing a little chain of branches throughout Kansas. Her home base is Mound Valley, but she opens up branches in Neodosha and Oswego, among other places, during this period.

Toward the late 1890s, Ollie starts making frequent trips to visit relatives in Elyria, Ohio. While there, she winds up taking over an established photo gallery in Elyria as well. Eventually she either sells off or just closes closing her Kansas studios moves to Elyria permanently by 1900.

This is Ollie’s “Ohio phase”, a period which sees her successfully running the popular Monroe studio in Elyria through 1908. Unlike in Kansas, she doesn’t seem to have multiple photo studio branchess that’s she’s running in Ohio. However, during this period she is also simultaneously running a vaudeville and movie theatre. However, she does turn over the theatre management to her eldest son, Wylie, around 1907 (at this point he’s 21 and married).

1909 is a bit of a tumultuous year which sees Ollie and her family leaving Ohio, and briefly heading west to Seattle.

However, in early 1910 Ollie is back in Kansas, this time in Coffeyville, where she winds up running another photo studio. For the first few months, she’s partnering with a man who is not a relative; this is the only time we find Ollie doing that during her career, as mostly she either goes it alone, or partners with one or more of her sons (as we’ll see momentarily).

Anyway, in this Kansas – phase 2 – period, not only does Ollie open that photography studio in Coffeyville in 1910, but by the end of that year she and her middle son, Charles H. Monroe, have taken charge of the Princess Theatre in Coffeyville. The newspaper headline proclaims that they are “succeeding where others have failed;” this is a rather an over-the-top newspaper account of Ollie and Charles running that theatre! Her youngist son, Harry, has by this time trained as a pianist, and he joins his mother and brother in Coffeyville, to work at the theatre.

Ollie and her two sons also briefly form a partnership to run a photography studio together in Coffeyville: Mrs Monroe and Sons. But by the end of the summer that partnership has dissolved, leaving Mrs Monroe on her own again running the studio.

At some point she and Charles also stop managing the theatre as well, but during this Kansas phase 2 period, Mrs Monroe also opens a branch studio in Oswego Kansas, where she’d had one years earlier during her Kansas phase 1 period. Plus, she and Charles are managing the “Star Photo Studio” in Clay Center, Kansas during this time, too.

Then, after a year in California (where she may or may not have been running anything), she’s back in the Mid-West, starting her “Oklahoma phase” by opening up a studio in Bartlesville, OK, and then Tulsa.

Plus, she apparently owns quite a bit of property in Miami, OK.

Interestingly, at one point she and her son Charles have *competing* studios in Tulsa, before joining forces once again to run the Monroe studio in Tulsa together, along with Charles’ new wife, Julia.

But then Charles and his new wife head to Calfiornia circa 1919.

There’s a notice in the Coffeyville, Kansas papers in the summer of 1919 that Mrs Monroe, her son Charles, his wife Julia, and another couple are taking a motor trip (in 2 automboiles) from Tulsa to Los Angeles and they are going to be passing through Coffeyville, Kansas on their way and hope to visit with folks there.

Hmm. Heading west from Tulsa by way of Kansas? If you’re like me, it may have struck you odd that their route from Tulsa to Los Angeles would take them trhough Coffeyville, Kansas, but consider
– Coffeyville turns out to be almost due North of Tulsa, so it’s not as much of an *eastern* detour as it might initially seem, and
– This was 1919. There were no interstates, and it’s possible the best route to the west meant first going north from Tulsa anyway.

By the way, Emily Post – yes, that Emily Post of etiquette column fame – wrote a fascintating account of the trip she and her son took driving across the U.S. in 1916. (I’ll include a link to more information about that – I highly recommend it. Chris read it to me as we were driving across the U.S. at some point a few years ago, and the accounts of the muddy – unpaved roads, having to find places to stay, etc. really painted a very different picture of car travel before 1920!

But I digress. But the state of roads and the realities of auto travel in the early 20th century may be dictating the route that Ollie and her travelling companions need to take for their trip in 1919.

Now, the notices in the paper imply Mrs. Monroe is only temporarily closing her studio in Tulsa for the summer. But in fact by 1920 Mrs Monroe has joined her son Charles and his wife Julia, who are running a photography studio in Los Angeles.

By the way, one thing that really comes across throughout Mrs. Monroe’s career (in Kansas, Ohio, and Oklahoma), is that during the summers it was too hot to run the studio. I hadn’t realy thought out it much before, but after seeing all of the notices about Ollie’s studios shutting down for the summer, it reminded me of two things:
1. How hot is in the Mid-West in the summer (Chris and I lived in Iowa for 8 years)
2. How hot it would have been ti be working int a photography studio, particularly in a dark room without any air conditioning!

As I said, having lived in Iowa for a time myself, I can attest it is extremely hot and humid during the summer months. No wonder Ollie kept shutting her studios for the summer in all those places.

Anyway, back to Ollie’s journey.

She spends the 1920s in California, working as a phbotographer. The only records she shows up in during this period, though, are the voter registration records, as the online digital copies of the California directories are kind of spotty for that period. There’s no trace of Ollie – or Charles or Julia Monroe, for that matter – in any directory in Los Angeles or Hungtington beach where we’re certain they were living (where Ollie is registered as a Republican, by the way).

However, we can tell from the census records in 1920 and 1930 that Julia and Charles Monroe are running a studio in Los Angeles in this period. And, we can see from Ollie Monroe’s obitutuary in 1931 that she spent 12 years in California as a photographer prior to her death.

Wow, that was quite a career, wouldn’t you say?

But all of that has only been the bare bones outline of Ollie Monroe’s career. Chris and I have found hundreds of clippings about Mrs. Ollie Monroe, and there are several stories and bits of information that I want to share. But that’s going to have to wait until the next episode, as I’m determined to try to keep these episodes a little shorter this year so I can try get the transcripts ready more quickly!

For today’s episode, look to the episode notes for some of the clippings related to what I talked about today, as well as a couple of studio portraits that Chris and I found on ebay by Mrs. O.H. Monroe. Plus, I’ll include more information on how to find Emily Post’s book about her 1916 automobile trip; her book is called By Motor to the Golden Gate; it’s available for free from the INternet archive and I”ll include a link.

As usual, you can find that over on the website at p3photogarphers.net. That’s letter “p”, number “3”, photographers “.” net.

Have a question or want to just drop me a line? write to me at podcast@p3photographers.net

Or you connect with me on facebook at facebook.com/p3photographers.

In part 2 of Ollie Monroe’s journey, we’re going to be finding out some more details about her life and career, including both triumphs and family tragedies.

The stories will include information about
– Why did Ollie give away a free baby?
– How Ollie got arrested? (And no, it wasn’t for giving away the baby).
– More about Ollie’s photographic successes, including what I consider her masterful 1906 publication.

So look for all of that in the next episode.

But that’s it for today.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Until next time, I’m Lee and this is Photographs, Pistols & Parasols.