23-Fate and Photography (Snodgrass Part 1)

In today’s episode we’ll meet Mary Snodgrass, a woman who ran photography studios in the early 1900s in both Iowa and Idaho, partnering at first with her brother, and then later with each of her two sisters.


Mary and Lucian Snodgrass opened their first studio in Knoxville, Iowa .  It was a typical artisan studio – they took studio portraits of people, plus were hired for  special projects like taking photos for the town school yearbooks. Here’s an example that is on display in the Marion County Historical Society museum in Knoxville, IA:

Snodgrass Studio photo from the 1907 yearbook Marion County High School yearbook (photo courtesy Marion County Historical Society)
Snodgrass Studio photo from the 1907 yearbook Marion County High School yearbook (photo courtesy Marion County Historical Society)
Detail: Snodgrass Studio stamp on the band photo
Detail: Snodgrass Studio stamp on the band photo

As I mention in the episode, Lucian’s had a daughter named Kathryn.  Lucian and his family, after moving around, eventually wind up back in Knoxville in the 1920s; I’m not sure who was taking the photos for the 1929 MCHS yearbook, but here’s a photo Kathryn Snodgrass, who graduated that year:

Yearbook photo of Kathryn Snodgrass, MCHS Class of 1929 (photo courtesy Marion County Historical Society)
Yearbook photo of Kathryn Snodgrass, MCHS Class of 1929 (photographer unknown; photo courtesy Marion County Historical Society)


BTW, the Marion County Historical Sociey has a very cute museum packed with interesting photos and artifacts; plus, they also have a little historical pioneer village. It’s well worth a visit if you’re passing through Knoxville, Iowa!

After Lucian and Mary move to Caldwell, Idaho, they continue running an artisan photography studio. It’s hard to find examples of the portrait work that Lucian and Mary did during the 1.5 years they ran the studio together, but it would have been the standard type of portraits like the following one produced by the Snodgrass Studio in Caldwell, date unknown:

Portrait by Snodgrass Picture Shop, Caldwell, Idaho (photo courtesy Robert E. Smylie Archives, College of Idaho)
Portrait by Snodgrass Picture Shop, Caldwell, Idaho (date unknown; photo courtesy Robert E. Smylie Archives, College of Idaho)

At some point they start doing school yearbook photos in Caldwell, just like they did in Knoxville.  Early on they also take out ads in the yearbooks, like this one from the 1911 Caldwell High School yearbook:

Advertisement in the Caldwell High School yearbook, 1911 (photo courtesy Robert E. Smylie Archives, College of Idaho)
Advertisement in the Caldwell High School yearbook, 1911 (photo courtesy Robert E. Smylie Archives, College of Idaho)

Lucian leaves Caldwell in March 1913 and Mary carries on alone and then is joined by the youngest Snodgrass sister, Jessie.  In addition to the artisan studio portrait photography, Mary also does other special projects, including  a whole series of photos of businesses in town, taken for the local newspaper – all done at night! Here’s the writeup in the newspaper that accompanied the photo series in September 1913:

Notice about photo series taken by Mary Snodgrass of local business establishments in Caldwell. All the photos were taken at night. The Caldwell Tribune, September 26, 1913

If you want to see the photos of the businesses send me a message and I’ll tell you how to get to them.

The recent discovery of Dr. Boone’s photo album at COI has been a real treasure to find. On one page there’s a list that includes signatures from all three Snodgrass sisters, Mary, Jessie,  and Margaret, which would seem to date it to the brief period in 1915 when Margaret passed through town.

All 3 Snodgrass sisters' signtures in the photo album by Dr. Boone (photo courtesy Robert E. Smylie Archives, College of Idaho)
All 3 Snodgrass sisters’ signatures in the photo album by Dr. Boone (photo circa 1915, courtesy Robert E. Smylie Archives, College of Idaho)

There are pictures in the album of only 2 of the sisters. This first photo is marked with both Margaret and Mary’s name ,but it’s Mary’s name on the photo itself:

Mary Snodgrass, circa 1915 (photo in Dr. Boone's album; courtesy Robert E. Smylie Archives, College of Idaho)
Mary Snodgrass, circa 1915 (photo in Dr. Boone’s album; courtesy Robert E. Smylie Archives, College of Idaho)

Next time, I’ll be talking about the fabulous Snodgass-Stanton collection at the Robert E. Smylie Archives at the College of Idaho. It contains thousands of photos taken by the Snodgrass Studio between 1919-1939, the period when Mary was running the studio with Margaret. In the collection we’ve discovered some photos of the two sisters themselves; think of it as sort-of selfies circa 1930. 😉

Anyway,  comparing the woman in that 1915 photo above with photos of Margaret and Mary from the early 1930s makes me think that the woman in the 1915 photo is probably Mary Snodgrass, not Margaret. See what you think:

Mary Snodgrass, 1930s (photo courtesy Snodrass-Stanton Collection, Robert E. Smylie Archives, COI)
Mary Snodgrass, 1930s (photo courtesy Snodrass-Stanton Collection, Robert E. Smylie Archives, COI)
Margaret Snodgrass, 1930s (photo courtesy Snodrass-Stanton Collection, Robert E. Smylie Archives, COI)
Margaret Snodgrass, 1930s (photo courtesy Snodrass-Stanton Collection, Robert E. Smylie Archives, COI)

In any case, here’s the photo of Jessie Snodgrass from Dr. Boone’s album. It’s the only photo of her we have at the moment; most of the photos in the Snodgrass-Stanton collection are from after Jessie’s death in 1919.

Jessie Snodgrass, circa 1915 (photo in Dr. Boone's album; courtesy Robert E. Smylie Archives, College of Idaho)
Jessie Snodgrass, circa 1915 (photo in Dr. Boone’s album; courtesy Robert E. Smylie Archives, College of Idaho)

Finally,  here’s an narrative timeline of all the dates and events that I talk about in today’s episode  (clicking on the timeline will to open it in a bigger size in a new window)

Snodgrass Family Narrative Timeline (courtesy C. Culy)
Snodgrass Family Narrative Timeline (timeline courtesy C. Culy)


Snodgrass Family timeline


You’re listening to Photographs, Pistols, and Parasols.

Support for this project is provided by listeners like you. Visit my website at p3photographers “dot” net for ideas on how you, too, can become a supporter of the project.

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 meet the Snodgrass family: three sisters and a brother who ran photography studios in the early 20th century.

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.


Our story starts today in Winterset, Iowa.

The four grown children of captain and Mrs Snodgrass are hard at work at a variety of different occupations.

Lucian, who is the oldest, is working as a clerk in a store.

Margaret, who’s the next one down, is a nurse living in Des Moines, Iowa. She’s the only one who’s moved away from Winterset.

Her sister Mary, who is two years younger, is working as a teacher in Winterset.

And the youngest daughter, Jessie, is living and working in Winterset as well, working at a millinery shop.

Now, little did they know their lives and their destinies are actually about to change.

OK, that sounds a little bit over the top, I know, but truly, things really change for all four siblings when, in April of 1905, Lucian and Mary decide to open a photograph gallery.

They actually moved to Knoxville, IA to open their gallery.

Now, it’s the start of what will eventually become a family business that will take them in different directions — and to different locations — and ultimately put them on a path — and a course — that will decide their destinies…

Before I get to what happens to them, though, I want to take just a moment to acknowledge their parents, who were not photographers, but who had some interesting backstory as well.

John C. Snodgrass and Eleanor Snodgrass — the parents of the four Snodgrass children — they were married in January 1961, just before war broke out.

John Snograss goes off to war and comes back a war hero.

John and Eleanor are very popular in town.

When they have their 10th anniversary in 1871, their friends throw them a big party, it’s called a “tin wedding party.”

I love the description in the paper: it says among the presents were articles “useful, unique, and grotesque, and presented quite an array of tinware.”

Captain Snodgrass had a variety of jobs.

He worked as a contractor for the railroad for awhile after he comes back from the war.

He then works as a constable, and a justice of the peace, and eventually even as a marshall.

In 1886, he’s involved in a big shoot out and gravely injured.

The articles in the newspaper cover the details of the attack, and at one point actually prematurely print his obituary.

Now, he was gravely injured, and he wasn’t initially expected to survive, but he does actually survive.

He’s still alive in 1905 when his children were working at those jobs I described at the beginning of this episode.

But as I said, the children grow up, and they go into a variety careers, when out of the blue — at least in terms of the newspaper notices that survive — out of the blue Lucian and Mary decide to give up their careers, move to Knoxville, IA and open up a photography studio.

Lucian is 33; Mary has just turned 29.

That’s in April of 1905.

Captain Snodgrass dies at the age of 76 in February of 1906.

And at that point, the mother, Eleanor Snodgrass, and their youngest sister, Jessie, both move to Knoxville, where Lucian and Mary are.

Lucian and Mary there are the only ones running the photography studio; Jessie takes a job in another millinery shop.

That studio prospers until 1910 when, in the fall of 1910, it’s announced that the Snodgrass studio is going to be closing because Lucian is moving to Caldwell, Idaho.

Now Caldwell, Idaho doesn’t seem like it would have a connection to Knoxville, IA, at least not from our 21st century perspective.

But in fact there was a close connection with people from Knoxville, IA moving to Caldwell, Idaho to settle.

That have been true for about a generation before Lucian goes there in 1910.

As matter of fact, there was very famously a man named Frank Steunenberg who had been raised in Knoxville, Iowa.

He and his brother had moved to Caldwell, Idaho, back in the 1880s to run newspaper there.

Frank Steunenberg eventually becomes the governor of Idaho – he is a governor from 1897-1901, but then he’s assassinated in 1905 there in Caldwell.

After his assassination, his widow moves back to Knoxville, IA.

So, she’s there when Lucian and Mary are running their photography studio in Knoxville.

I don’t know if there’s any connection as to why Lucian gets this idea to go to Caldwell.

He had bounced around from job to job before he had opened that photography studio with his sister in Knoxville.

So it’s possible that he just had a certain type of wanderlust and had gotten this notion of Caldwell, Idaho because of this coming and going with people from Knoxville to Caldwell.

In any case, in November of 1910, Lucian moves to Caldwell, Idaho and opens up the Snodgrass Picture Shop.

Now, of course, he’s been partnered with his sister Mary in Knoxville.

But Mary doesn’t move right away, because their mother is sick.

So, Mary and Jessie stay to take care of their mother in Knoxville.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Snodgrass, the mother, dies in March of 1911.

At that point, Mary picks up and moves to Caldwell, joining Lucian, and starting to run that Snodgrass Picture Shop in Caldwell, Idaho with her brother.

The youngest sister, Jessie, for the moment, stays in Knoxville.

OK, so Mary is now in Caldwell, Idaho, and Mary and Lucian are back to running a studio together, but in Caldwell.

A couple of months later, Lucian gets married.

He marries a woman named Ethel Kline. She’s actually from Knoxville, so I have to assume they knew one another before he moved to Caldwell.

They wind up visiting Colorado springs and getting married there, and then returning to Caldwell, where they settle down.

They buy a house; Mary has her own place at that point.

Mary and Lucian run the photography studio together for the next year and a half. Lucian and Ethel welcome their daughter Kathryn.

Ethel’s aunt has come from Iowa to help them with the new baby.

And then, right after Christmas that year, just a few minutes after Kathryn’s birth, Mary accompanies Ethel’s aunt back to Iowa for a visit.

Intriguingly, Mary she returns at the end of February with (apparently) a bunch of cash, because just about a week later there’s a notice in the paper that Mary has bought out Lucian’s stake in the Snodgrass Picture Shop!

The other odd thing from the notices in the paper around that time is that, unfortunately, baby Kathryn was actually quite ill.

So I don’t know if it’s Kathryn’s illness that’s prompting Lucian and Ethel and their baby to move.

But in fact in March, after Mary buys out Lucian’s share of the studio, Lucian, Ethel and Kathryn actually do move.

They move to Colorado, though — and I can’t imagine that the weather in March in Colorado is really that much better than the weather in March in Idaho.

In any case Lucian, Ethel, and baby Kathryn wind up in Loveland, Colorado.

Lucian opens up a new photography gallery there, so it’s not that he was tired of being a photographer.

He continues to be a photographer in Loveland, Colorado for the next several years.

Now, really, because Lucian never actually works with his sister again , and this is a podcast about female photographers, Lucian doesn’t really have much of a stake in the story after this point.

But I would like to mention that at least he does continue to be a photographer.

He works in Loveland, and then eventually he actually moves back to Knoxville, IA. As I said, his wife was from Knoxville, IA, and they move back in with her father at some point.

Interestingly Lucian actually opens up a new photography gallery in Knoxville, IA, and then runs that for a long time, until he retires.

As for little baby Kathryn? Well, she been sickly when they left Caldwell back in 1913, but I’m happy to say she recovered.

She grows up, and she eventually moves and works in Arizona.

When Lucian retires, he and Ethel move to be with her daughter in Arizona.

Anyway, as I said, Lucian really doesn’t factor much into the story from this point on, because he’s not working with his sister anymore.

But I did want to mention him, because he does start out as one of the partners in the Snodgrass Picture Shop.

In any case, going back to Caldwell in 1913, after Lucian and Ethel and baby Kathryn have left, Mary was left running the Snodgrass Picture Shop.

Now, after a couple of months, her sister Jessie actually comes to town.

Jessie, who had worked as a milliner up to this point, changes careers and becomes a photographer.

At least she’s helping Mary run that studio.

Now, while Mary and Jessie are building lives in Caldwell, they’re also very active in the social world there.

There are notices in the paper that they’re active in a lot of different groups.

They are very active in the Presbyterian church, and groups that are associated with that church.

There’s a college in Caldwell, the College of Idaho, that is affiliated with the Presbyterian church, at least it was when it was founded.

The founder was a man named Dr. William Boone; he was a minister, and he was also a very serious amateur photographer.

There were notices that Mary and Dr Boone actually go off on Saturdays and do photo shoots.

Dr. Boone was always collecting different kinds of camera equipment, and I’m sure Mary and Dr. Boone had a delightful time going around and taing some pictures around town and around the area.

Caldwell is nestled in an area surrounded by hillsm and it’s really quite a beautiful area for photography.

Mary is also very active with Dr. Boone in another way.

As president of the college, he hosts a lot of official dinners.

He’s married, but his wife never seems to be the hostess at these dinners, it’s either Mary Snodgrass or some of the other ladies from the church who help out Dr. Boone.

The College of Idaho in their archive actually have uncovered a scrapbook recently, and in that scrapbook are a couple of pictures that Dr Boone took of the Snodgrass sisters, just informal pictures taken as friends.

Really quite fun to see the Snodgrass sisters relaxed and having fun with a friend who is also a photographer.

Margaret, the sister who was the nurse working in the Des Moines back in 1905, she’s continued to rise up the ranks of being a nurse, getting promoted there in Des Moinse.

But in 1915, she actually takes a break; the notice actually says she needs a rest from her job in Des Moines.

She comes out to Caldwell, and there is a notice that she’s going to be moving to Caldwell to take up a job as a superintendent at a hospital there in Caldwell.

But a few months later, another person is actually running that nursing program in Caldwell, not Margaret Snodgrass.

So, it’s not exactly certain why Margaret doesn’t settle there in Caldwell in 1915, but she doesn’t, and she winds up going off elsewhere.

We’ll discover in a moment where she went.

But just Mary and Jessie are the ones living in Caldwell from 1913-1919, both running the Snodgrass Picture Shop.

So things, are going along really well for Mary and Jessie … but then one Sunday in July of 1919, things take a tragic turn.

There’s an article in July of 1919 that appears in the Winterset, IA paper about something that’s just occured in Caldwell, Idaho. The headline reveals what happened:

Miss Jessie Snodgrass Killed Near Boise by Failure of Brakes

You see, Jessie and Mary had a friend named Charles Oakes. Oakes was a prominent businessman there in town.

He buys a new car in July of 1919, and he, his wife, and three of their friends (including the two Snodgrass sisters) go off for a drive.

As they come around a curve, Charles Oakes is quoted as saying, “These brakes will not work!”

Those are the last words he speaks, because at that moment the car goes tumbling over a cliff, plunging 75 feet to the ground below.

Charles Oakes and Jessie Snodgrass are killed instantly.

Mary Snodgrass, Mrs Oakes, and the other passenger, a Miss Sturgeon, all survived the crash but are gravely injured.

I have to say this always comes as a bit of a shock every time I read about one of these tragic accidents that result in the sudden death of one of these photographers.

The first time it happened was actually reading about this accident with the Snodgrass sisters.

My husband and I were doing research and we had run across Mary Snodgrass just accidentally.

And so we were looking in newspapers, and it was fun to find that Mary and Jessie were both very active in the social notices, Mary working with Dr. Boone doing those dinners, doing those photo shoots …

And then we ran across this notice about the accident.

And it was almost like  — not really a death in the family, but we had developed a fondness for Mary and her sister, and it was just such a shock to realize that in 1919 this tragedy had occurred.

So, when the accident happens, Mary is in the hospital.

Lucian, who is living in Loveland, Colorado at this point, he comes back to Caldwell.

There’s a mention in passing that this is the first time he’s actually been back in Caldwell since he left in 1913.

Their sister Margaret, who was the nurse who didn’t take that position in Caldwell … well, it turns out that she went on to California and has been working there.

And so the article says that she’s back in Caldwell for Jessie’s funeral and to help take care of her sister.

The accident makes the newspapers for weeks because it really was a huge tragedy there in town.

In an odd, ironic twist, Dr. Boone is actually asked to go take a picture of the wreckage of the car.

We’ve actually uncovered that picture. The archivisit at the College of Idaho archives, Jan Boles, he had run across this picture [at while ago but didn’t know what it was].

But, it turned out to be the car wreckage from that crash.

It’s amazing when you look at the car to think that anybody survivor that wreck.

But Mary and the other two women did survive.

Now, Margaret, the sister who was working as a nurse in California at the time of the crash, not only did she come to Caldwell to take care of her sister, but once Mary has recovered, the studio reopens, and Margaret stays on and becomes a photographer.

Or at least somebody working in the studio with her sister Mary.

So the accident, while the tragic end to the life of Jessie Snodgrass, is not the end of the Snodgrass Picture Shop in Caldwell, Idaho.

Margaret and mary actually run that gallery for another 20 years, retiring in 1939.

Now in a twist of fate in another way, we’re actually to be able to delve into not only more of the lives of Margaret and Mary Snodgrass, but also into the day-to-day operations of the Snodgress Picture Shop, due to some records that happened to have been recovered.

But that’s going to have to wait till next time, so stay tuned.

Before I end today, though, I really want to think Jan Boles, the archivist at the College of Idaho.

He has been invaluable in helping us track down bits and pieces of information that we hadn’t found [in the newspapers and other online records] about the Snodgrass Picture Shop and the Snodgrass sisters.

There will be a lot more to say about the College of Idaho archives in the next episode.

But I do want to mention that many of the images that will be shared on the episode notes for today originated with Jan and the College of Idaho archives.  [Also, special thanks to the Marion County Historical Society in Knoxville, Iowa for some of the material shared in today’s episode notes.]

As always the episode notes will be available on my website, p3photographers. net. That’s letter “p”, number “3”, photographers “dot” net.

Remember, you can drop me a line at podcast “at” p3photographers.net.

Or follow me on Facebook, at facebook.com/p3photographers.

So that’s it for today.

Next time we’re still going to be in Caldwell, exploring more about Mary and Margaret Snodgrass and their life stories.

But we’re also going to be diving into records that reveal the day-to-day operations of the Snodgrass Picture Shop.

These records provide an excellent glimpse into the ins and outs of running an early artisan photography studio.

I’m really excited to be able to bring you this information, and I hope you’ll join me.

Until then, I’m Lee McIntyre, and this is Photographs, Pistols & Parasols.


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