62 – The Journey of Ollie Monroe (part 2)

In today’s episode, we continue our journey with the photographer named Ollie Monroe.


Today we’re finally going to continue our journey to explore the amazing career of Olive Monroe. Since it’s taken a little longer than I’d hope to finish Mrs. Monroe’s story, if you need  to refresh your memory about how this all started, here’s a link to Part 1 of Ollie Monroe’s story.

First, let’s talk a little about her ads. Below we see Mrs. O.H. Monroe’s special deal offered in 1891 to any woman who could show that she voted in an election in Kansas (remember, women had the right to vote long before the U.S. Federal law changed):

Ad in the Mound Valley Herald, April 3, 1891
Mound Valley Herald, April 3, 1891

Mrs. Monroe was really brilliant at creating eye-catching ads. Here’s an example from later in her career, when she was running a studio with one of her sons. Her use of a photo montage is quite striking and somewhat unusual for the period.

The Democrat newspaper, Clay Center Kansas, December 20, 1912
The Democrat (newspaper), Clay Center, Kansas, December 20, 1912

But then, photo montages were something of her specialty. She used some excellent examples in  two photo books she produced when she lived in Elyria, Ohio, in 1903 and 1906:

  1. Elyria 1903 book: Picturesque Elyria. Her enterprising citizens and her industries
    This entire book is freely available on the Internet archive – click here  to access it.

Among the many photos by Mrs. Monroe in the book we find a photo of Mrs. Monroe herself, pictured on the page with all the prominent business women in town:

Mrs. O.H. Monroe (from the 1903 book on Elyria, Ohio)
Mrs. O.H. Monroe (from the 1903 book on Elyria, Ohio)

Click here to see that full page in the book, which includes not only the photos of the women, but all information about them and their businesses.

2. 1906 book: Lorain County Ohio, her Beautiful Children, Progressive People and Marvelous Development, by Mrs. O. H. Monroe. You can find information here about the book, but there is currently no online copy freely available.  There’s a digital version that has been available in the past behind the paywall at the Ohio Geneological Society Digital Library. If you can find a copy of the book, it has come great images that make you feel like you’ve step back in time into the life of the town.  You’ll even have a chance to “stop by” Mrs. Monroe’s studio, as there are photos of that and other businesses in town.

Also, as I mention in this episode, the  Lorain County Historical Society (@LorainCountyHistoricalSociety)  published a piece about Mrs. Monroe’s 1906 book back in November as part of their #FamilyResearchFriday series. Click here to view their post, which includes a nice example of one of the baby montages by Mrs. Monroe. Mrs. Monroe wrote this book as well as took most of the photos;  as I mention in the episode, 2 of her sons also contributed photos and artwork.

Now, in an odd twist, I happened to notice today that  p.134 of Mrs. Monroe’s 1906 book about Lorain County includes the exact photo montage she uses in 1912 for that ad in the Kansas newspaper shown above! She loved her montages … even the old ones, I guess.

Anyway,  as those books are wonderful, and probably worked extremely well as advertising for not only the town and county in Ohio, but also for Mrs. Monroe’s wonderful photographic work.

However, by far the most memorable advertising gimmick. we found for  Mrs. Monroe actually was for her one of other businesses, namely running a theatre in Elyria, Ohio. Here’s an eye-catching mention of an upcoming giveaway at her theatre in 1907:

The Chronicle-Telegram (ELyria, Ohio), Nov 19, 1907
The Chronicle-Telegram (ELyria, Ohio), Nov 19, 1907

Compare that headline to Mrs. Ober-Townes’s 1894 ad that I discussed back in Episode 7, where Mrs. Ober-Towne’s “baby give away” which was just a trick of the typeface in the ad.  Mrs. Monroe, however,  insisted in all interviews right up until the big day that she was actually giving away a baby.

So …  did she really give a baby to the lucky ticket holder? Well, you’ll need to listen to the episode or read the transcript below to see what happened…

[Note: All the newspaper 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 continue our journey with Ollie Monroe, to find out more about her life and career.

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 back to Photographs, Pistols & Parasols.

Today we’re continuing the story of Ollie Monroe, the successful photographer (and so much more!) who we met last time.

As we learned last time, Ollie’s career took her to multiple states, and saw her running multiple photographic studies, as well as multiple theatres.

We covered the bare bones of her career in the last episode – but today I want to talk about some stories I didn’t have chance to mention the first time around.

For example, I didn’t get a chance to mention that while she’s in Kansas the first time, Ollie Monroe is quite promonent abmont the Kansas Photographers Associations. In 1893 she’s even elected to be the “First Vice-president” of the state-wide organization. (Another woman I’ve talked about on the podcast, Mrs. Rosa Vreeland, was actually the “Second Vice-president”.)

I also haven’t mentioned that throughout her career we see her leveraging advertising really well. We see with other early artisan photographers from this period, too, of course, but there are some remarkable aspects to some of Mrs Monroe’s ads and the servies she provides.

For one thing, in addition to regular kind of portraits, she seems to become really enamored with offering speciality photo objects, everything from “photo jewelry” — like the photo buttons with a photo of her son, Wylie, that she distributes as party favors at a party for him one year — to the fancy photo collages that she can make from photos of “you and your family””, etc. This is in additional to the large prints and framed photos she also offers.

Of course, like all the other photographers of this period, she also offers special deals, including some very creative ones.

For example in 1891, when she’s in Mound Valley, Kansas, she offers a free portrait to any woman who can show proof that she voted in the city elections. (Kansas, it should be noted, allowed women to vote in local elections long before the U.S. Federal voting rights for women were granted in 1920).

Mrs. Monroe generally feels very passionately about getting women the right to vote. In 1893 she is even a founding member – and the first president – of the Equal Suffrage Society in Mound Valley.

Knowing that, it seems fitting – and is kind of fun – that our way of tracking of her in the official records in California in the 1920s is through her voter registration there. She was passionate about suffrage all throughout her life.

Later in her career, ads for her studio become more complex. I’ll include a scan of an elaborate Christmas-time ad for the Star Studio in Clay Center Kansas, under the management of Mrs. O.H. Monroe and Son (that would be son Charles, who is going by C.H. Monroe at this point).

The ad has a collage of photos, which I guess are examples of the kind of “high grade photos” you can get at the studio, which is only open 3 days a week. Of course, if you listen to the last episode I discuss how this is at a time when they are running multiple studios, so I guess this is how they managed to split their time between all the branches.

By the way, Mrs Monroe and Son want to remind you in the ad that, “nothing is more heartily welcomed on Christmas morning than a picture of an absent friend.” Or a picture of an absent friend’s kids, apparently, as most of the sample photos in the ads are of children, either alone, with a parent, or their dog.

Of course, for me, the most memorable ad by Mrs. Ollie Monroe during her career is for her theatre in Elyria, Ohio.

Now remember she was running this vaudeville house and movie theatre. To attract patrons (with the goal to sell as many tickets as possible), she devices special attractions to get people in the door. In 1907, patrons are advised that those attending the show on Wednesday, November 20, 1907 will be automatically entered in the drawing for a live baby, to be given away that evening.

Yes, the headline in the ad actually says “Baby to be given away.”

Now, a couple of years ago I mentioned on the podcast how Mrs. Clara Ober-Towne had an eye-catching ad that at first glance implied that a “good fat baby” was going to be given away at her studio. But when you read the ad completely you soon realised that it was a trick of the typeset, and that actually the ad meant thaty was just photos of your good fat baby that were being (practically) given away, the prices were so low.

But for Mrs. Ollie Monroe, the gimmick of the baby-giveaway at her theatre was really that she was giving away a baby.

Needless to say, this caused quite the stir in town. Half the people believed it, half thought it was some sort of trick.

Multiple articles appear in the newspapers. Mrs. Monroe at one point is quoted as saying that the baby was being donated by an orphanage in Cleveland. A minister in town preaches against this every Sunday in the weeks leading up to the big event.


The big night comes, and the theatre is packed for the big giveaway.

The holder of the winning ticket comes up on stage to receive his prize … which turns out to be a baby PIG dressed in baby clothes.

So, thankfully, this was in the end an elaborate hoax.

The winner took home his adopted baby pig … but by Christmas the poor pig had been sold to a butcher … and well, I don’t need to tell you what happened after that…

But in some sense it had a happy ending since there was no real life baby involved.

But certainly … she sold the tickets and made money. And in terms of generating publicity – and getting the crowds to come out to the theatre, Mrs Monroe was very successful.

She does, however, run afoul with the mayor of Elyria on several occasions, possbily because he wasn’t that happy with all the publicity she was generating for the town.

At one point he has her arrested for opening a “place of entertainment ” on a Sunday, which is, of course, against the law in Elyria in 1907. She gets out of that charnge when the court agrees with her argument that what she was showing on Sundays was Passion Play movies, and “Passion Play” movies are regiglious and (she argues) therefore should be allowed on a Sunday.

So that was part of Mrs Monroe’s career running the theatre in Elyria: really successful for a time, really creative with the ads, including a number of gimmicks to get people in the door.

Now, at some point, though, the theatre’s management is turned over to Ollie’s oldest son, Wylie, who is at that point 21 and already married. Unfortunately, though, the theatre doesn’t do as well under his management, and ultimately files for bankruptcy.

But then again, that may have been because Wylie becomes very ill in late 1908, when he comes down with tuberculosis.

The family then heads west in early 1909 (ultimately winding up in Seattle), trying to find a cure for Wylie and hoping that going West will help.

Along the way, they pass through Mound Valley, Kansas.

Now, I haven’t mentioned this, but when Olllie and the kids moved to Elyria, they did it without J.R. Monroe, Ollie’s husband. He’d stayed in Kansas (mostly) and she’d filed for divorce in 1900. J.R. had moved around to different towns after this, usually working during this period as a druggist.

Anyway, in 1909, J.R. is back in Mound Valley – but he is actually dying from tuberculosis himself. He passes away in early March 1909.

And … despite the family’s quest for a treatment for Wylie, he, too, passes away, in November 1909 at the age of only 23.

Sadly, tuberculosis will eventually kill all 3 of Ollie’s sons, although the younger 2 do outlive her, dying after her in the 1930s.

Anyway, it’s after Wylie’s death that Ollie and her other sons wind up back in Kansas for a while, then later in Oklahoma and finally California.

Overall, Ollie’s journey spans thousands of miles, with a career that spans across 5 states.

While there are other stories that emerge from the hundredds of newspaper clips we have for Ollie and her family, I want to end this episode by talking about some special photography projects that Ollie Monroe took on at the start of the 20th centruy in Elyria, Ohio.

In the early 1900s she’s hired to help put together a “souvenir” book on Elyria, Ohio called: “Picturesque Elyria. Her enterprising citizens and her industries” (1903).” The book includes photos of the town’s prominent citizens and businesses. There’s even a page on the prominent business women in town, among them Mrs. Monroe. (I’ll include that page in the episode notes for today.) That whole book is actually freely available from the Internet Archive, and I’ll put a link to the whole book in the episode notes was well.

It’s really interesting to see how it’s put together and the kinds of articles and information is has on the prominent citizens in the town and the history.

There’s a special collage on the final page of the book that includes a number of photos of children of Elyria; these photos were all taken in Mrs. Monroe’s studio, of course.

As I mentioned, collages were actually something of a speciality for Mrs. Monroe over the years, we saw that in her ads.

Later, apparently because of the success of the 1903 book, she is contracted to put together a followup book on Lorain County, the county that Elyria is in. That book comes out in 1906. Unlike the Elyria book, Mrs. Monroe is listed as the sole author of the Lorain County book.

Also, unlike the Elyria book, the digital copy of the the Lorain County book is now available online only behind a paywall. It has been digitized by the Ohio Genealogical Society.

If you want to check it out, you can subscribe to the Ohio Genealogical Society.

I really highly recommend if you can get a copy of the whole book, check it out, as it is really is something special. It contains the expected photos of the prominent citizens and their stately homes, and it has interesting pictures of different businesses, and the insides of those businesses …

It’s really like we’re there in Lorain County in 1906 and we can step into the stores, e.g. being greeted by the owners at the shoe parlor, or at the little restaurant run Mrs., etc. And of course, we can step into Mrs. Monroe’s studio, as their are pictures of her reception rooms, etc. There are also pictures of her sons in this book as well.

Now, 2 of her sons were old enough that they were already contributed to the business. Son Wylie, for example, took all the landscape photos in town that are this 1906 book on Lorrain County. Son Charles did all the sketches that accompany many of the collages of photos; for example, there are images of babies being delivered by storks, where the storks are sketches by Charles Monroe the babies are photos taken by Mrs. Monroe.

Son Harry Monroe, the youngest son, was a little too young to work in the studio in 1906. But there is a photo of him with his classmates on one of the pages as well.

The complete title of this book is Lorain County (Ohio), her Beautiful Children, Progressive People and Marvelous Development. Part of the reason for this book seems to have been to try to convince people to move to Lorain County. It was a period when people were searching for new frontiers, and the folks in Ohio were promoting Lorain County as prosperous area to consider moving to. You really get that sense from the book. There are landscape photos of the area, including ones of unpaved roads with the description that this is the site of future development that’s planned. Really quite fascinating.

Now, after I put most of this podcast together I happened to notice that the Lorain County Historical Society has a feature on its Facebook page called #FamilyResearchFriday. Their post on Nov 27 talks about the Mrs. O. H. Monroe’s book 1906 book on Lorain County. I’ll include a link to that in the episode notes. It was great to see them talking about this book.

I also think it would be great to see if anyone has done a before and after type of book that compares the way it looked in 1906 to the way it looks today; I’m curious to see what ever happened with any of the places that were shown as the site of future development in 1906.

As I said, Mrs. Monroe is the author as well as the photographer for this 1906 book.

In the forward to the book, Mrs. Monroe writes,

“This is a progressive age. We are a progressive and restless people and continually on the move, no place so good but that some place might be better. ”

That sentiment, for me, really sums up something about the restlessness we see throughout Ollie Monroe’s life and career.

As a photographer, she’s very progressive with her craft: she’s constantly changing with the times upgrading her techniques, technology, and offerings to the latest things (e.g. the photo jewelry, photo books, etc).

She’s also restless in other ways: moving from place to place, always looking for more opportunities, from opening more branches or her studios to trying additional business (like the theatre).

She’s exemplifies a strong, talented, extremely successful early artisan woman photographer, and early photographic entrepreneur.


For today’s episode, look to the episode notes for some of the clippings that I talked about, plus, of course, for how to find Ollie Monroe’s 1903 book on Elyria, which is available for free on the Internet Archive, as well as her 1906 book on Lorain County, which is available behind the paywall. from the Ohio Genealogy Society.

I’ll also include a link to the Lorain County Historical Society’s writeup about Mrs. O. H. Monroe’s Lorain County book.

As usual, you can find all the links and photos over on the website at p3photographers.net. That’s letter “p”, number “3”, photographers “dot” net.

If you have a question or want to just drop me a line, write to me at podcast “at” p3photographers.net.

And remember, you can always connect with me on facebook at facebook.com/p3photographers.

But that’s it for today. I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this long journey with Ollie Monroe.

As always, thanks for stopping by the podcast.

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



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