parasol10A pretty woman is a stylish dress poses for her portrait at the  J. B. Wilson studio in Chicago, Illinois. She is wearing a pretty hat and is holding an open parasol over her shoulder. Her left arm is hidden but magnification shows that she has placed her left hand on her hip. She is thin waisted, probably courtesy of a corset. The reverse of the photograph has an inscription that identifies the young woman pictured in the image. However, the identification is somewhat tentative. The inscription states “Aida Bushnell, I think”. To view other photographs by J. B. Wilson, click on the category “Photographer: Wilson (JB)”. The 1900 US census lists the subject as “Addie” and reports that she was born in 1866 and was married to Henry Bushnell since 1888. She and her husband had three children; Howard (age 11), David (age 8), and Miriam (age 4). Henry worked as a laborer while Addie was a dressmaker.The family was living in Lisbon, Illinois. The 1910 census finds the family living in St. Charles, Illinois. The only child remaining home was Miriam (listed as Marion). Henry still worked as a laborer. The 1920 census identifies Aida as “Ada”. She and her husband were still living in St. Charles. Henry was disabled and not working while Ada was also unemployed. The 1930 census indicates that the 74 year-old Henry and 64 year-old “Addie” remained in St. Charles. The 1940 census reveals that Addie had become a widowed boarder in a St. Charles residence.



This cabinet card features a young smiling woman lying on a fainting couch. This image is quite risque for its time. The style and folds of the woman’s dress, her exposed feet, her smile and her body language all contribute to the provocativeness of this image. Fainting couches were popular in the 19th century and used predominately by woman. They are couches with a back that is traditionally raised at one end. There are two major theories as to why these type of couches became popular. The first theory was that some women wore their corsets so tight, that they restricted blood flow; causing fainting. This theory has pretty much been debunked. A second theory was that the couch was popular because many women of that time suffered from “female hysteria”. This medical condition caused symptoms that included faintness, nervousness, and insomnia. The illness was treated by “pelvic massage”. The couch was a great setting for hysterical woman to receive the treatment from visiting physicians and midwives. This female psychiatric illness sounds very much like an anxiety attack, and Xanax and Ativan seem to have replaced “pelvic massage” on a fainting couch. The photographer of this cabinet card was J. B. Wilson of Chicago, Illinois. To view other photographs by Wilson, click on the category “Photographer: Wilson (JB)”.  The subject of this photograph may have been an actress.