13 The Mary Winslow Enigma

In this episode we take a look at the peripatetic Mary Winslow, an intrepid itinerant photographer who “always goes where she pleases.”


On today’s episode we meet Mary Winslow, a woman who is more than a little bit of a mystery:

— Was she was an unmarried woman who made her living in 1895 as an itinerant photographer traveling alone around  California in a horse and buggy?

— Or was she was a  married woman who earned a living as a photographer travelling around in New York State , not in a horse and buggy, but in a “peripatetic photo car” — where “photo car” in 1895 is means a private train car/photograph studio?

— Or could these both be the same woman?

– Is either Mary Winslow real?

In this episode, I explore the scant evidence that exists for a woman photographer named Mary Winslow, an examine  evidence to see if we can figure if out if this quintessential example of a “New Woman” ever really existed.

Real or not, she’s an intriguing story — and one of the details that’s the same for both “Miss” and “Mrs” Winslow inspired the title of this podcast.

There are no known photos by any Mary Winslow that have surfaced to date, but I found it kind of fun that one blogger speculates that she would have dressed something like this:

this 1895 article in the San Francisco Examiner. According to the late photo historian Peter Palmquist (author of many books about women and photography, including the fun book Camera Fiends and Kodak Girls), no photos by Mary Winslow have survived to this day. I always hold out hope, though, that something might be found in someday in some archive, somewhere. I love Mary’s spirit, her love of travel, and her determination to do photography on her own terms.

Her story is also provided the inspiration for part of the title of this podcast, too!


P.S. I should note that it’s this story about Mary Winslow that gave me the inspiration for the pistol part of the title of this podcast.


Note that for the Lifeline below, the dates are taken from the clues given in the March 1895 article in the San Fransisco Examiner article for Miss Mary Winslow. The article says that she’s been in business for “the past 3 years”, and that she’s 25 years old. As described in the podcast, I have not been able to track down any other details about the mysterious Mary Winslow.

Mary Winslow Lifeline


Support for this project is provided by listeners like you. Check out 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.

On today’s episode, I’m going to introduce you to the enigma of Mary Winslow.

For more information about any of the women discussed in today’s episode, visit my website at p3photographers “dot” net. That’s letter “p”, number “3”, photographers “dot” net.

Today we’re going to talk about a woman named Mary Winslow. She’s a bit of an enigma to me, for reasons that I’ll explain in just a second.

I first ran across Mary Winslow in an article written in 1895 published in the San Francisco Examiner newspaper.

Let me read you just a little bit of that article.

It says at the beginning, “To be a traveling photographer is a new departure even for the New Woman, but that is what Miss Mary Winslow has been for the past three years. She intends to follow the business all her life, unless she gets so rich that her time will all be occupied in taking care of her money, and even then she thinks she will have to steal out for a short trip once in a while. She has already amassed $2,500 towards the fortune.”

The article goes on,

“She travels in a buggy alone, and thinks nothing whatever of driving her own horse over any road where someone else’s horse has been driven. She is twenty-five years old, shrewd, self-reliant, and not afraid of anything. Her only arms are a revolver and a man’s hat, and she goes wherever she pleases.”

Now let me pause there. I just want to point out that that phrase [about] carrying a revolver for protection, well that firearm was the inspiration for the “pistol” in the title of this podcast; “pistol” being just a little more alliterative with “photographs” than revolver. But this is how I came up with that for the title.

But let me go back to the article, and read you a little bit more. Quoting again about Miss Mary Winslow:

“She makes views and outdoor portraits, and they are good ones, too. But it was not always thus. When she started on her first photographic trip she was familiar with the theory of photography and understood the chemical reactions. But as far as practical knowledge of the apparatus was concerned she hadn’t the least bit. But she was tired of the city and city life, so she left San Francisco with the determination to make pictures or die, and she made pictures. Her first attempt was to photograph two young men who wanted to immortalize themselves and their load of hay. The tripod behaved like an elephant, and as for focusing, she simply wasn’t in it. When she discovered that a certain part of the camera worked back and forth she restrained a desire to toss up her hat and shout “Eureka,” and proceeded to make two negatives with the plate-holder securely closed. She was out three weeks on this undertaking, and carried home with her enough orders to net her $125, after making due allowances for accidents when she made the negatives and also for failures in developing; for with characteristic independence she learned to develop by developing.”

Now a little later on the article says,

“As she has a small buggy she can carry only a very limited outfit, and has to depend largely upon the courtesy of resident brothers of the craft for the development of such of her negatives as she cannot keep until her return home and the making of her proofs. This is no great drawback to her success, however, as she invariably finds them obliging and willing to lend her such help as she needs. For finishing, she usually takes her negatives to her headquarters in San Francisco and prints from the window of her private room, in which same room, she tones, mounts and does all the other things that are necessary to produce a first-class photograph, and for them she gets first-class prices.”

OK, so the article goes on; it’s actually quite a long profile of Miss Mary Winslow, that article in March of 1895 in the San Francisco Examiner [newspaper].

Now, as I’ve already said, this story was the inspiration for “pistol” in the title of this podcast. So, you might wonder, why did I not bring up Mary Winslow in Season One, since she was such an inspiration for me?

Well, before I explain one thing, I want to just mention, right at the beginning of that article it talks about Miss Mary Winslow as being a “New Woman”; that’s “New Woman” with a capital “N”, capital “W”.

The idea of the New Woman was a particular thing in the 1890s that celebrated a new-found independence for women. The idea was that women no longer were tied to the traditional roles of motherhood and marriage, but they could strike out on their own and earn their own living, not be dependent on a man, have a career …

And this sense of independence is celebrated in articles throughout the 1890s, and celebrated in women’s activities throughout the 1890s. I’ve actually already mentioned one of the examples of the New Woman, that Annie Londonderry, who did the bike ride around the world. Back in Episode 7, I talk about Clara Ober-Towne and her sponsorship of that bike trip. And that is a quintessential example of something that a New Woman would have done.

So Miss Mary Winslow, in this 1895 article in the San Francisco Examiner, is celebrated as an example of a New Woman: a woman who was forging a career as a photographer; not dependent on a man; able to roam around in her horse and buggy on her own wearing a man’s hat and carrying a revolver for protection.

I was fascinated by this story when I ran across it. Peter Palmquist actually transcribed this article and includes it in his Camera Fiends and Kodak Girls book. He has the entire article there, and there are clues in the article that made me think, OK, I’d love to know more about her. What else can I find out about her?

Now when Peter Palmquist was doing his research 30 years ag, he didn’t have access to all the digital stuff I have access to. And when I went to Yale, and I looked in his archival material, I discovered that he didn’t have anything more about Mary Winslow other than this article in the San Francisco Examiner.

But I thought, OK, let me look in the article and see what clues I can find.

Well it says that she has a headquarters in San Francisco, a studio base even if she doesn’t a storefront [there].

It says that she worked as a travelling photographer up and down California … that she was 25 years old … and that her route was anywhere from Yosemite to LA (it says that later on in that article).

So, certainly, I thought, I could find some record of her somewhere in California.

Maybe the census  — right, the census records are online — and I use that a lot to find out about these women [photographers].

But — there’s no Mary Winslow in the census from California.

The problem, though, is we’re talking about 1895. So the census in 1890 would have been a marvelous record, even just to prove that she lived in San Francisco, but the 1890 census is the one that’s missing, the one that was destroyed in a fire.

OK, so … we’re not gonna be able to use the census because there’s no guarantee that she continued until 1900, because she was amassing a fortune — she already had 2500 dollars in 1895! — so maybe she had gotten enough money and decided to give up photography.

So, the census is not going to help.

But what about the city directories?

Right — because she has a base where she’s actually developing and printing her photography even if she doesn’t have a studio store front.

But …. she’s not any the San Francisco city directories, which Peter Palmquist probably would have discovered, because he had access to those city directories when he actually went and found them in person.

Now there are no photographs that have ever turned up that are labeled as Mary Winslow. And again, getting back to Peter Palmquist, he was such a genius in turning up examples of these early women photographers’ photos, that the fact that he never found Mary Winslow made me think that I probably wouldn’t find her either.

And certainly I have not found her yet.

But the other resources I have at my fingertips are of course the digitized newspapers.

So I thought, aha! This is where I’m going to actually be able to track down more about Mary Winslow.

Because certainly she would have gotten mentioned in the paper … or maybe took out an ad in the paper … or something …. and course I have access to so many more articles than Peter Palmquist did all at one go, that I thought yes, this is going to be it!

So, I did a search to see if I could find anything about Mary Winslow, starting with the Library of Congress site, but eventually branching out to some other pay-subscription sites like Newspapers.com.

And what I found in the articles is actually very interesting.

Because throughout 1895 there are various small (shorter) articles that appear across the US, in newspapers from Virginia to Kansas, all across the Midwest and beyond, to California.

And the articles all have exactly the same details in as the San Francisco Examiner article — but none of them mention Miss Mary Winslow by name. [Instead], it’s all about the anonymous New Woman photographer.

One phrase really stands out to me that is repeated over and over: “When night finds her a long way from any place where she can get bed and board she puts on the man’s hat and a black alpaca ulster, as a sort of disguise for her sex, sees that her revolver is in good working order, and feels perfectly at home and without any fear of even a tramp.”

That is hardly a random sentence, and yet that same sentence, and others as well, are repeated in these articles that appear all over the states.

But there is no mention of “Miss Mary Winslow”; there is always just the anonymous “woman photographer”.

But then there are other places — other newspapers — that have short notices, like a social notice almost, about a “Mary Winslow”.

The notices appear in 1895 and into 1896, but it’s about — well, let me read you the notice. It’s exactly the same in all the newspapers I’ve tracked it down in, over 10 so far.

And, again, it’s exactly the same [in all the papers]. Here’s the notice:

“Mrs. Mary Winslow is traveling through western New York as proprietor and operator of a peripatetic photograph car. She wears a man’s hat, carries a revolver, is a first-class artist, and has more work than she can attend to.”

Well, OK, first just let me point out that the phrase “peripatetic photograph car”: “Peripatetic” simply means a traveling photograph car, and here — this is 1895, so we’re talking about a railroad car.

Now the idea of a travelling photograph railroad car was actually something, then while not super common, it wasn’t uncommon to find it here and there in the 1890s.

The idea was that the photographer would have basically a traveling studio, but instead of setting up a tent, they would actually travel in this photograph railroad car, set up in a town, advertise ahead of time before they got there to say that they were going to be there for a week, or two weeks, or even just a couple of days.

And the people would come get their photographs taken, and then they would be to print them right then, or they send them on later.

So the idea of this private photograph railroad car is really interesting.

But Miss Mary Winslow, back in California — well, she had a horse and buggy.

But this Mrs Mary Winslow, she was in New York state in this railroad car.

Still Mary Winslow, but Miss versus Mrs, and buggy versus railway car.

I wasn’t sure what to make of that.

And so I thought, OK, I really need to look at the original newspaper article in the San Francisco Examiner because that seems to be the earliest mention of any woman like this.

And, if that’s the basis for all these other notices, then maybe I can see some connection, or really maybe I could see if it’s actually supposed to be a real story; or maybe it was a fictional story about a woman named Mary Winslow, and then somehow gets modified to be this woman in New York.

Unfortunately the San Francisco Examiner is not one of the newspapers that’s available online. But it is on microfilm.

So I travelled to California to look at the microfilm of that original article, just to see if I could make out if that particular section of the newspaper was a section that had features that were fictional or something.

But I have to say, in looking at a bunch of the editions both before and after the Miss Winslow article, it certainly seems like that page and those kinds of features were presented as real profiles.

So it was a profile of a real woman named Mary Winslow.

But … I can’t find any other information about her, any other trace of a Miss Mary Winslow in California or Mrs Mary Winslow in New York.

In my travels this summer I chatted with librarians and archivists and tried to find out if anyone had ever run across information about either one of these Mary Winslows beyond these articles.

And mostly, if people had heard of her, they’d heard of the San Francisco Examiner article from 1895. That is the main piece of evidence for the woman in California.

As for these little notices in the paper for Mrs Mary Winslow in New York, well, again, only that little, that standard little paragraph about her was all that anyone has ever found.

The librarian in Beloit, Marla, who was such a help figuring out the MIsses O’Donnell materials, has really been great in trying to figure out more about what we can piece together from that [1895] article about Miss Mary Winslow. [Marla] is hopeful that she’s on track to figure out where Miss Winslow really came from, and what her story really was. I’m hopeful that Marla will find out!

And … if anyone else out there has any clues to offer as to the identity of Mary Winslow and what the stories were, that would be wonderful.

Because, I mean, look — there were women who were itinerant photographers (and we’re going to meet some of them later on in Season Two); and the idea of carrying a revolver — a pistol if you will 😉 — for protection is something that was done by both men and women when they traveled around, including photographers.

But fundamentally, I would love to know … find proof … that Mary Winslow in California actually existed.

Or did Mrs Mary Winslow in New York state actually exist?

Or are they both variations on somebody’s idea of the type of New Woman that a woman photographer represented?

I wish I had an answer …. but for the moment it’s still a mystery

For more information about any of the early women photographers profiled on the podcast, visit my website at p3photographers “dot” net.

That’s letter p, number 3, photographers.net.

Or, drop me a line at podcast “at” p3photographers.net.

You can also follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/p3photographers/

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

That’s it for today.

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