A WOMAN WEARING A VERY UNUSUAL COLORFUL PATTERNED DRESS IN NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS

nice dress

This interesting cabinet card features a woman wearing a very unusual dress. The dress’s pattern can be described as psychedelic. Some would call the pattern paisley. One wonders if the woman’s dress really looked this way or if an artist colored the photograph while knocking off a bottle of whiskey. Another theory is that the subject woke up the morning of her appointment at the photographer and realized she had nothing to wear. In an act of desperation, she wore the living room drapes. Before I conjecture further, I want to call for assistance from the cabinet card gallery’s research department. Perhaps one of the several fashion savvy cabinet card gallery visitors can share their informed opinion about this woman’s attire. I shouldn’t call her “this woman” because I know her name. An inscription on the reverse of the photograph reveals that her name is Sarah Goodwin and that the cabinet card photo was taken in 1892. The 1880 US census finds a Sarah Goodwin living in Ware, Massachusetts. This is a town 24 miles away from Knowlton Brothers studio in Northampton. At the time of this photograph, Miss Goodwin was twenty nine years-old and working in a cotton mill. She was the third of five children born to Steven and Mary Goodwin. Sarah was born in 1863 in England, which was also the birthplace of her parents.

Published in: on July 23, 2014 at 11:45 am  Comments (12)  
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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It looks like maybe she was doing fancy dress

  2. It appears to me that Ms Goodwin was a theatrical women who trod the boards in her spare time and is dressed in a beautiful costume, for a particular role, that has been carefully and expertly made.

  3. She looks like an actress… what is she holding in her right hand?

  4. Paisley was quite popular and although we usually see photos of solid colors, many museums and private collections hold fabulously patterned fabrics. With how the subject is holding papers and looks rather dramatic I am wondering if she was in a play? Great image!

  5. I would think she was in a play. Companies and towns often put on theatricals. Usually large department stores but perhaps a mill would have as well. The dress is sorta 18th century style. Or maybe the photographer wanted a pretty girl for photographic art, in which case he should have designed the shot better.

    • First, I really like this dress on Sarah… can’t help it. I think I see a limited pattern of sequins, but no gaudy accessories, no jewelry at all. And with a train … appropriate places to wear it would be limited, I expect. My first (and only) thought mirrors Pamazon and the others … a scene from a play … local theater? Good stagecraft … the near-anger expression, the denying outstretched hand …’ you can’t have what is in this paper bag’ (heavy enough to warrant supporting from below) … nothing in the extended hand, just shadows on the palm. Sarah, 29, and working in a cotton mill … good grief! Never saw a paper bag in a Cabinet Card before … great posting! … lots of mystery (i.e. questions).

  6. What she is holding in her hand looks to me as papers with a broken seal. A letter maybe or documents that would be of importance to her acting role.

  7. This is a pretty distinct Colonial Revival costume. Around the time of the Centennial and after, it became quite popular for ladies to take interest in pre-Revolutionary history, do re-enactments, hold colonial balls, etc. The dress she’s wearing is a replica of an 18th c. “sack” dress.

  8. Based on how well she is dressed & what appears to be a document in her hand, as well the the importance of being in Northampton, MA in 1892, I believe this woman to be Sarah Storer Goodwin, daughter of Boston lawyer Frank Goodwin & his wife Mary G. Buttrick Goodwin. Sarah was born in Cambridge in 1870 & died in Concord in 1965. She never married or had children but was a noted educator, at one time tutoring Helen Keller at Radcliffe College.

    Although she & her prestigious family resided in Cambridge, MA, Sarah attended Smith College in Northampton. According to her obituary, she graduated in 1892. This could very well be a graduation photo and in her hand, a diploma.

    • Thank you so much for sharing the interesting information about Sarah Goodwin. She certainly was a very accomplished woman. Some of the dates and demographics that you and I found aren’t perfect matches but I will do more reseach to try to confirm your identification of Sarah Storer Goodwin. Of course it is not unusual for errors to be made in census data and other sources. Thanks again.

      • I agree that further research is needed. It’s actually an extremely close match for Sarah Storer Goodwin since she attended school that same year & same location where photo was taken. She also had the means to afford a single portrait of herself wearing that extraordinary dress – which very well may be an 18th century costume dress as suggested earlier and likely worn for the Browning play in which she starred in 1892. She also appears much younger than 29, especially if she & her family were laborers in a factory. I feel she is closer in age to 18-23.

        May I suggest contacting the Milton Academy? She was the first principal of Milton’s girls’ school from 1901-1928 and her painting hangs in Ware Hall where the girls’ schoolhouse was originally located. I found a photo of the painting published in the Spring 2012 Milton Magazine but I’m unable to zoom in close enough to see if there is a resemblance. It may not help much since it is a painting of her at an older age but the school may have other photos of her in their archives. She had a very interesting life. If her, a copy of this photograph may be considered quite valuable to them or a number of other institutions/historical societies. Thanks for sharing it with the world. I hope you are one day able to identify her.

  9. In addition to my previous comment on Sarah Storer Goodwin. I’ve found another possibility for her attire & pose other than her 1892 graduation (she received a Bachelor of Literature degree). In June of 1892, prior to graduation, the seniors at Smith performed an elaborate play by Robert Browning called “Columbe’s Birthday”. It was performed before 1000 students & friends at the Academy of Music. Sarah was the star, playing Duchess Colombe of Ravenstein. Perhaps she is acting out her part in this photo. It’s a beautiful photograph.


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