Thanks to J.W. on Ancestry.com, we have two photos of Eva herself. The first was taken in Huntington (I think); it’s a portrait in the pictorialist soft-focus style, but there’s no indication of who took it. (For more information about Pictorialism, check out Episode 02 and Episode 03 on this podcast).
The following one dates to 1914, when she was a partner in the Strayer, Dey & Fawley studio in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
As promised, here are two photos taken with my cell phone. First, the beautiful fine-art print version of the nativity scene photo taken by Eva B. Strayer (to see the original photo, visit the Huntington Public Library):
Finally, a photo looking down Jefferson Street from Nick’s Kitchen toward the old Strayer studio building:
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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’ll meet the unexpectedly peripatetic Miss Eva B. Strayer.
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.
Today we’re traveling to Huntington, Indiana to meet the photographer named Eva B, Strayer.
Now, just to give you a little bit of background on her, she was born in 1881 to a mother named Sarah C. Strayer, and a father named William H. Strayer.
Her parents were therefore Mr and Mrs W. H. Strayer, and that’s going to become important for us to know later on.
But before I get to that part, I want to first jump into the action in 1922, when Eva B. Strayer starts running a studio at 447 North Jefferson Street.
Now the population in Huntington, Indiana around that time was about 14,000 people.
And that studio location is a particularly good spot, because it’s kitty-corner across from a place called Nick’s Kitchen, which is — according to the legend — the place where the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich was invented.
Anyway, it opened in 1908 and it has, by 1922, become a local institution.
Eva B. Strayer, having a studio kitty-corner across the street — well, that’s actually a pretty good spot.
Now she runs that studio from 1922 until 1941 – or maybe a little bit longer.
The Huntington, Indiana directories are spotty, unfortunately. The one in 1941 exists, and we can see that she’s running her studio there.
But by 1946 — the next city directory that’s available — well, there’s no longer an Eva B. Strayer studio there.
So we can assume that she somehow closed that studio, and I think that it’s plausible that she’s actually retired by then.
Because you see, she was already in her early 40s when she opened that studio in 1922, so by 1946, well, she’s 65 years old.
And actually her mother had died in 1945, and so I’m wondering if that was the impetus for Eva to close her studio and hit the road with her partner, as they travel across country visiting friends and family.
Now just ‘s a note about her partner … her partner in that studio in Huntington, and actually for the last 50 years of her life, is a woman named Nettie Overmyer.
Nettie’s occupation is a little bit of a puzzle because she is sometimes listed as being a photographer, helping Eva run that studio.
But in the census records, and also in most of the city directories, she’s got a variety of other jobs, such as being a stenographer or bookkeeper or a sales lady at a furniture company.
Now I suspect that Nettie was actually involved in the business, but in the business side of the studio, (maybe) not actively taking the photographs.
I’ve seen that time and time again.
If you go back to the episode about the Misses O’Donnell, for example, [N.B. Episode 05, The Adventures of the Misses O’Donnell], those are the two sisters who ran a studio in Beloit, Kansas.
One of them, Anna O’Donnell, always seem more like the business partner, in terms of running the business day-in, day-out, whereas Margaret O’Donnell, her sister, was the photographer in the family.
Getting back to Eva and Nettie, during their time in Huntington they were very popular.
They are mentioned in the social notices quite a bit.
Not only are they running the studio, they’re active in various groups in town as well, including something called the Travellers Club.
Now they each present on topics such as travel to Lima, Peru.
It was kind of funny: there is a mention that the two of them are going for a weekend to Peru to see an exhibit … and I really thought to myself, “What?! A weekend to go to Peru?!”
But of course, there’s a Peru, Indiana, and that’s where the exhibit was … even though the presentation at that Travellers Club was about visiting the country [of Peru].
They really seem to like to travel. They go on vacations for a week or two at a time; they travel to family reunions; they visit relatives or relatives come and visit them. They’re also going back and forth a lot visiting Eva’s parents, Mr and Mrs W. H. Strayer.
But a lot of the notices, of course, revolve around the studio activity.
I mean, the studio is really a success.
Not only do they offer to take photos of people, places, and things, they are also sponsoring special exhibitions.
For example, in 1923 they sponsor a special exhibition, bringing to town the works of two photographers from elsewhere in Indiana, Sprague Bishop and Miss Harriet Stover.
Now the type of photographs that those two photographers did were pictorialist style photos; they are described as “pictorial scenes” of the Indiana sand dunes that are in the northern part of Indiana.
Pictorialism, of course, was the very popular artistic, sort of slightly soft-focused, type of photography there in the late 19th to early 20th century, and it’s still popular in 1923 when Eva sponsors this big show.
Other notices in the paper about Eva and Nettie say that they’re going back and forth to photographers conventions, seemingly every year, either to the ones in Indiana, or to ones nationally.
They travel together … they travel also with other photographers … like there’s another photographer nearby named Miss Lillian Heaney, and they travel with her … and at one point they travel and then host a visit by Miss Belinda Daniels, who teaches photography at the School for the Deaf in Jacksonville, Illinois.
There are also other things in the paper about the Eva B. Stayer studio.
There’s one particularly poignant piece about the death of Miss Strayer’s pet dog, which was run over by a car in 1926.
Let me just read you the little notice in the paper. It says,
A small Scotch collie pup belonging to Miss Eva Strayer, and known among the children about the studio, and having been photographed with a number of the children, was killed Tuesday morning when it was struck by an automobile on West Washington. Miss Strayer praised the dog highly for its intelligence.
That’s really interesting, because it gives a little bit of insight into Eva’s character, and her style of interacting with the children.
And also the fact that she was a real dog lover.
She and Nettie, though, were also very conscious of doing their business stuff right. So there are ads in newspapers: There’s one in 1922 when she opens a studio, proclaiming the “New Studio, Miss Eva Strayer, Photographs of Distinction”.
There are Christmas time specials that they advertise over the years.
There are also ads in local yearbooks, like a high school yearbook ad one year that’s all in Latin!
I’ll put that on the website to give you an example of the different kinds of ads that Eva B. Strayer specialized in.
Now in addition to the standard sort of studio photography, Eva also did other kinds of photography in and around the town.
The Huntington Public Library today actually has prints of a photo that Eva took to record the gift of a special nativity scene.
Not only are there the standard postcard-style types of prints of the nativity, with an embossed stamp of Eva B Strayer’s studio, there is also one fine art print of that photo, on special paper which is actually signed by Eva B. Strayer.
Eva and Nettie retire to North Manchester, Indiana, where Eva was from, and they wind up living to a ripe old age: Eva dies in 1972 at the age of 91, while Nettie, who was a bit younger, lives until 1981.
Eva and Nettie are buried together, which reinforces my understanding of them being life partners, and not just business partners.
OK, so far so good for the story of Eva B. Strayer from Huntington, Indiana.
But as it turns out, Huntington is only part of her story.
As I said, Eva was 41 when she started operating the photography studio in Huntington.
So, the first question that comes to mind is, well, where was she and what was she doing before that?
We can see fairly easily from the city directories that immediately before she was in Huntington, she was in South Bend, Indiana, working for another photographer.
And for at least a year Eva and Nettie are actually sharing a place there in South Bend.
But it is a little bit hard to figure out when Eva B. Strayer became a photographer.
If we go back to 1900, when she’s 19 years old, she still living with her parents … except that a little bit later that year when the census is taken in Michigan, there’s an Eva B. Strayer living with cousins and working in a dry goods store in Michigan.
Now the birth dates are the same for the one who’s living with her parents in North Manchester, and the one who’s living in Michigan, so I think it probably is the same woman who has left home and taken her first job in a dry goods store (nothing to do with photography!).
In terms of photography, the first time an Eva B. Strayer pops up as a photographer is in 1904 in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
That’s seems like kind of a long ways from Indiana, but the Strayer family is actually very prominent in Harrisonburg, Virginia, so maybe there were some sort of relatives that she had that she went to visit there.
Or maybe not. Maybe she became a photographer before that, because by the time she’s in Harrisonburg, Virginia, she’s running a photography studio with another woman, a woman who is only identified as “Miss Smith.”
Specifically, the notices say that the Misses Strayer and Smith — that’s Misses as in M I S S E S – the Misses Strayer and Smith run the studio in Harrisonburg, Virginia from 1905-1905.
There’s a social note in the newspaper that says that that Miss Eva Strayer, the one of the firm Strayer and Smith, has a friend from Wabash, Indiana who comes to visit in 1905.
And that to me is a clue that this is the same Eva B. Strayer that we’re tracking from Huntington, Indiana, because that Eva B. Strayer was born in Wabash County, Indiana, so I think that there could be a connection there.
Well that’s 1905. But then for the next decade the evidence is a bit spotty:
There’s a photographer named Eva B. Strayer who is working in upstate New York around 1907.
There’s a photographer named Eva B. Strayer who’s working in Jacksonville, Florida in 1909.
Is that the same woman? Or is it another photographer – or another two photographers — who are also named Eva B. Strayer?
I’m not sure.
But I am sure in 1913, when we run across a yearbook ad that advertises a studio run by the Misses — again, M i S S E S — the Misses Strayer, Dey, and Fawley.
This studio in Martinsburg, West Virginia. It’s active from 1913 through 1915.
And according to the Martinsburg, West Virginia city directories that survive, Eva B. Strayer is the Strayer in the firm Strayer, Dey, and Fawley.
After that, in 1917-1918, there’s an Eva B. Strayer running something called the Crows studio in Norfolk, Virginia.
And I think both of those people – the one in West Virginia and the one in Norfolk, Virginia — are the same Eva B. Strayer that we’re tracking, because in both cases the Eva B. Strayer who is associated with those firms is either visited by or visits her mother and father, Mr and Mrs W. H. Strayer.
As I said, that was going to become important to know that those were her parents, because this gives us a clue that it is likely that Eva B. Strayer, the one that we know was in Huntington, Indiana later on, well, we know that she is earlier likely to have been at least in West Virginia and Virginia.
But that also means that she’s kind of popping up all over the place during the 20 year period between 1900 and when we know she’s in South Bend, Indiana in 1920.
That’s really unusual; I would not have expected someone to be bopping all over the place, popping up for a year or two at a time, running a studio and then going back and working for someone else, and then running her own studio again, and going back and working for someone else again.
You don’t usually find quite such variation but that seems to be the case with Eva B. Strayer.
Now, there’s another reason that I’m really certain that Martinsburg, West Virginia one is that right Eva B. Strayer.
I mean, that’s the Eva B. Strayer who is the partner in the firm Strayer, Dey and Fawley.
Thanks to message boards on ancestry.com, I actually tracked down someone whose grandmother was apparently a friend of Eva B. Strayer there in Huntington.
And the person on ancestry.com, Jim, happened to have two photographs of her.
One of them was taken in Huntington, but the other one was taken in West Virginia, at that studio Strayer, Dey and Fawley.
And remember how Eva B. Strayer love dogs?
Well, the other photo, is a 1914 photo of a woman and her dog, and the writing on the back says that it’s “Sir Francis Michael and his ma”, his ma being none other than Miss Eva B. Strayer.
Now I still can’t really explain how she winds up traveling all over the east coast, so far afield from Indiana, or even how she winds up back in South Bend in 1920, when she pops up in the city directories there.
But I do at least know why she winds up in Huntington.
You see, in 1922 there was a photography studio for sale in Huntington, Indiana.
It was called the Roach Studio.
Eva buys out the owner of the Roach Studio and turns it into the Eva B. Strayer studio.
The curious thing is that the owner of the Roach Studio, the person who sold it to Eva B. Strayer … well, that was actually a woman named Iva Roach.
Yes, you see, before Eva B. Strayer was a very successful women artisan photographer there in Huntington, Indiana, there was actually another woman who was also a successful artisan photographer in Huntington, Indiana, one Miss Iva Roach.
Iva Roach has a quite compelling story all her own, as well.
So, in the next episode we’re going to travel back a little further in time in Huntington, and pick up Iva Roach’s story.
I should also note that along the way today I’ve mentioned in passing the names of a few other photographers who either worked with or whose stories otherwise intersected with Eva B. Strayer’s story.
I don’t have a lot of information about most of them but I think going to make a little extra episode to touch on their stories just a little bit.
Watch for more information about that episode coming up on my Facebook page and also over on the website.
Now in the episode notes for today I’ll include a couple of those ads I mentioned, as well as the two photos of Eva B. Strayer that were discovered on ancestry.com, including the one with her dog.
And also I’ll try to include a copy of that nativity scene photo; I took a picture of it at the library with my cell phone.
I really want to thank Sarah, Julie, and Amber from the Huntington Public Library for all of their help in tracking down the information, and also locating that picture and beautiful fine art print of it.
I’d also like to thank Richard from the Huntington County Historical Museum, and of course the folks on ancestry.com, Jim and also Glenda.
And I’ll also include a photo of Huntington’s Jefferson Street today, taken from the vantage point of Nick’s Kitchen, something that is still in operation in the same place, serving the same kinds of food, including that breaded pork tenderloin. The location is is still diagonally across from Eva’s old studio.
It was quite fun to eat in a place where Eva and Nettie could have eaten once upon a time.
As always, the episode notes and all the photos and everything are available on my website at p3photographers.net, that’s letter “p”, number “3”, photographers “dot” net.
Also, follow me on Facebook, at facebook.com/p3photographers.
Support for this podcast comes from listeners like you.
Go to my website at p3photographers.net for information and suggestions on how you, too, can become a supporter of the project.
Well, that’s it for today.
Thanks for stopping by!
Until next time, I’m Lee, and this is Photographs, Pistols & Parasols.