A 'Swenglish' journey through family photos, notes and postcards from the early 20th century.

2012-11-30

Sepia Saturday Photo: The Maids of the Lake

“Jungfrurna vid sjön” (tidigt 1900-tal)

Gerda_maids by the lake_0002-001

Gerda_maids by the lake_0002-001

Some time in the late autumn of 1902, my great-aunt Gerda (born 1881) emigrated from Sweden to Chigaco, Illinois, where she remained living and working at least through 1910. (I know she was back in Sweden in 1913. She might have gone back already in 1911 or 1912, I’m not sure.)

From the 1910 US Population Census I know that in 1910 she was employed as servant in the household of Dr Otto L Schmidt. (The links go to earlier posts on this blog.)

From postcards she received, I can see that she lived at the same address between 1906 and through 1910. Before 1906, cards were sent to varius other addresses, so probably she had a few different employers before she came to the Schmidts. In the census of 1910, there seems to have been only two more female servants in the Schmidt household. In this photo, they are six, which implies a bigger household.

There is no note on the back of the photo to enlighten me as to when or where it was taken – or by whom. The photo is printed on postcard paper, but there is no writing on it. I do think it must be from her early years in the US, even if the landscape could just as well be in Sweden. As they are all wearing aprons (except perhaps the one furthest to the right in the back row – maybe the housekeeper?) that suggests a working situation rather than a photo taken in their free time. Gerda is the one sitting on the tree stump at the front. Does that indicate she had an important position in the group? Or were several photos taken and they all took turns sitting at the front, for a photo to send home to their families? Or was Gerda the only one who volonteered to balance on that tree stump so close to the water? I’ll probably never know!

I also wonder if there is any significance to the varieties in  their dresses and aprons etc. – Suggestions are welcome!

I’m linking to:

På svenska

Någon gång hösten 1902 emigrerade min farmors halvsyster Gerda till Chicago i USA. (Farmor hade inte ens fyllt 2 då.) 1910 vet jag att hon fortfarande var kvar i Chicago. 1913 vet var hon åter i Sverige. (Ev kan hon ha återvänt till Sverige redan 1911 eller 1912; det vet jag inte.)

År 1910 finns hon upptagen i den amerikanska folkräkningen, i tjänst hos Dr Otto L. Schmidt med familj i Chicago. (Länkar till tidigare inlägg i denna blogg.) Hon hade då bott på samma adress sedan 1906 (vet jag från vykorten). Innan dess hade hon olika postadresser i Chicago, så troligen hade hon några olika arbetsgivare innan hon kom till Schmidts. I folkräkningsregistret står bara tre kvinnliga tjänare upptagna i det Schmidtska hushållet (inkl Gerda). På fotot ovan är de sex, vilket tyder på ett större hushåll.

Kortet har vykortsbaksida men det står ingenting skrivet på det. Jag vet inte när eller var fotot är taget, eller av vem. Jag tror dock det måste vara från de tidiga åren i USA, även om landskapet lika gärna kunde vara Sverige. Alla bär förkläden – utom kanske kvinnan längst t.h. i bakre raden (kanske hushållerskan?). Det tyder på att fotot är taget i en arbetssituation, inte på fritiden. Gerda sitter längst fram på en stubbe vid strandkanten. Innebär det att hon hade någon slags särställning? Eller togs det flera fotografier, och de turades om att sitta längst fram? Eller var bara Gerda den modigaste när det gällde att balansera på trästubben vid vattnet? Det lär jag väl aldrig få veta. 

Jag undrar också lite över variationen i deras klädsel, de olika typerna av klänningar, kragar och förkläden. Om någon vet om de hade speciell innebörd så är jag tacksam för upplysningar.

Inlägget länkas till Sepia Saturday 154.

17 comments:

  1. You pose so many interesting questions about this photo. I wonder why Gerda had a black tie when the
    others had none or white...also the different apron shapes might have comprised a specific uniform. All those button!! Must have been difficult to iron.
    A very interesting photo.

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  2. Maybe the women were from more than one household. The photo looks like it was done by a good photographer.

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  3. Under pressure I will admit that I am not an apron expert. So I am afraid I can't help you with suggestions. But that doesn't make the picture any less charming!

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  4. Gerda is the only one with a bow tie but whether this has any significance, I've no idea.

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  5. That must have been some big house and rich family if they were all employed together. Since their dresses don't match either, the varied aprons probably are not significant.

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  6. Could it possibly have been taken at a summer hotel or boarding house? And they all worked there? To have that many servants in ONE house would indicate a very large house...but regardless, it's a fabulous photo!

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  7. Gerda does seem to have a slightly more elevated position, in more ways than one! This is a very well-composed shot and has real charm.

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  8. What an interesting photograph. It reminds me of the PBS series Upstairs Downstairs and the interesting and sometimes awful lives these ladies led. But they all look pretty happy. Maybe Schmidt was a good employer.
    Nancy

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  9. What a great photo! I've no ideas about the way they are dressed, but Gerda was brave to sit on that tree stump :-) Jo

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  10. A lovely photo. To me, Gerda, although looking composed,seems she is a little uncomfortable sitting on the stump.

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  11. My immediate reaction on seeing the photo was to wonder if the different aprons signified different jobs / ranks but then Postcardy's idea above that they could be from more than one household is also attractive. Ironic to think that my grandmother would probably have known the answer straight away even with the difference in countries.

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  12. It is a fascinating photograph and you rightly pose so many questions on its behalf. I can't even guess at the answers - but I have always found questions much more fascinating than answers.

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  13. I know nothing about aprons or servants so no help there. I really like your header photo montage too.

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  14. A beautiful photo. I like Deb's idea, as my first impression was not a household but a hotel staff. The lake suggests a summer resort, and not a private home. In the days before air conditioning, lakeside hotels were a big draw for hot city people seeking cool relief. The bow tie is surely a mark of position. A secretary or teacher would also wear one. Gerda may have been the head waitress and might have met Dr Schmidt during while he was taking a family holiday.

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  15. What a lovely photograph! I like the idea that Gerda's bowtie may suggest she held a higher position in a household or hotel.

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  16. Thanks for all your comments and suggestions. Meanwhile I've found another photo of Gerda in an even larger group of women (nine) posing for a photo in some kind of garden, and there too she is the only one with a bowtie. The idea of a lakeside hotel or similar is certainly interesting. I'm still a bit doubtful about the point in time, though. All the addresses on postcards sent to her in the US are in Chicago. But of course working in a hotel could have been just for a summer in between other jobs, or something like that.

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  17. I love these old photographs. I wondere3d if Gerda's bow tie indicated her higher status.

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