Say Cabbage!

 Stories that Inspire…


Margaret Brownley



Sage advice for photographers from…


A Vision of Lucy

(Available for preorder)     


  • When photographing stampeding cattle, charging bulls or blazing   shoot-outs, use a fast shutter speed

  • Brides, take pity on your photographer.  Matthew S. Brady and his helpers were able to record the entire War Between the States with little more than 1100 photographs.  Half that number should satisfy most brides.

  • Doctors, do not look at the camera like it’s a patient needing help through death’s door.  Such a pose will speak ill of you, and it won’t do much for your practice, either. 

  • A man imagines himself more handsome than his photograph; a woman believes herself more homely.

  • While posing for a photograph spinsters should avoid looking desperate or deprived.  A serene smile will show that your circumstances are by choice and not for lack of beauty or character.


I loved writing about old time photography and have nothing but awe for the brave souls who first took camera in hand.  It wasn’t just men who battled unwieldy equipment and exploding chemicals in the name of art.  Women were also photographers and a few even made a name for themselves.  It was these early female photographers who  gave me the inspiration for the heroine of my book, Lucy Fairbanks. 


Cameras and Babies: an Odd Combination

 Since female occupations were not listed on the census until 1870, it’s hard to know how many professional women photographers existed in America before that time. We do know, however, that some, like Julia Shannon of San Francisco, owned their own studios as early as 1850.  Julia took the family portrait to new heights when she shockingly advertised herself as a daguerreotypist and midwife. No one appeared to be shocked when male barbers and blacksmiths offered photographs with their other services. 


Women had an advantage over male photographers, who were often confounded by female dress. This explains why one photographer advertised in 1861 for an assistant, “Who Understands the Hairdressing Business.”  Women also had a few tricks up their leg of mutton sleeves—or rather their skirts.  Elizabeth Withington invented a “dark thick dress skirt” to use as a developing tent when she traveled.   


Those cheerless faces in early photographs were partly due to vices that held heads still for long periods of time, but that wasn’t the only reason.  A tightly controlled mouth was once considered a thing of beauty.  In her essay “Why We say ‘Cheese’: Producing the Smile in Snapshot Photography,” Christina Kotchemidova, an Assistant Professor in Mass Communication at Spring Hill College, wrote that photography was once the domain of the rich. Smiles were worn only by peasants, children and drunks.  She then goes on to explain that fast shutter speed, dental care and cultural changes began a process of “mouth liberalization.”


Photographers used all sorts of devices to hold a client’s interest.  One even had a trained monkey. Another photographer had a canary that sang on command.  Mechanical birds were a favorite gimmick and “Watch the birdie” became a familiar refrain in studios across the country.


                                                        What Will it Be?        Prunes or Cabbage?

Magazines and newspaper ran ample advice for posing.  An 1877 edition of The Chicago Inter-Ocean advised women with large mouths to say the word “Flip,” although one photographer preferred the word “Prunes.” If a small mouth was the problem the word “Cabbage” would make it appear larger. And, yes, some photographers really did give children laudanum or chloroform to keep them still.


Not everyone was enamored with cameras.  One dog owner put up a sign warning “photographers and other tramps to stay away” after his dog had an unfortunate run-in with a tripod.


Did photography have a bearing on the suffragette movement?  Indeed, it did, but it appeared to be more of a detriment than a help.  The photographs of militant suffragettes or women dressed in bloomers did more harm than good,  If you think America was tough on suffragettes, think again. The women’s rights movement was considered the biggest threat to the British Empire.  According to the National Archives the votes-for-women movement became the first “terrorist” organization subjected to secret surveillance photography in the world. 


Photography has come a long way since those early daguerreotype days.  One can only imagine what the brave souls of yesteryear would think of today’s “aim and click” cameras.  Now days you can’t even drive down the street without having your picture taken. But as Miss Gertrude Hasslebrink in A Vision of Lucy would say, “Never leave the house unless you’re ready for your close up.”


Meet the Ladies of Rocky Creek

                                      A Lady Like Sarah                                             



Suitor for Jenny


A Vision of Lucy

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22 thoughts on “Say Cabbage!”

  1. What a great cover and title, Margaret! I always love old-fashioned wedding pictures. The couple always looks like they want to throw up. I’ve got a darlingest tintype of my great-grandfather. He’s a realy hottie. Thinking of all that old-style equipment and comparing it to today’s smartphones is almost surreal. oxoxox

  2. Tanya, you gave me the first laugh of the day with your throwing up comment.

    Writing this book made me realize how much we’ve given up in exchanged for convenience. Having your photograph taken used to be special. Today I can’t even leave the house without having my photo snapped at the corner stop light.


  3. Fun post, Margaret! Photography and midwifery? Sounds like a great match to me. All that built in business for baby pictures!

    And suffragettes being the first “terrorist” organization? Boy those men sure felt threatened, didn’t they? Glad we’ve moved on since then.

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Fascinating blog, Margaret. One more hint from my Great Grandma Magelby: A woman should never have her photograph taken after the age of 50.
    I have a book about a woman named Julia Tuell. She was the wife of the agent on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in the early 1900s. A gifted photographer, she took wonderful photos of the Indians, especially the women. If anyone’s interested, the book is called “Women and Warriors of the Plains,” and should still be available.

  5. Elizabeth, your grandmother had good advice. I think it was Debbie Macomber who said to have your picture taken at 21 and use it the rest of your life. Personally, I plan to use my daughter’s photo. Fortunately, we look alike.

  6. Hi Margaret,
    What a fascinating post. My husband had the opportunity of meeting Ansel Adams, back in the 1940’s or early 50’s. He wasn’t too impressed because Mr. Adams had his giant equipment set up in the middle of the trail, at the top of a very bad pass, in the back country. Each mule that came up the trail, spooked, and pulled back to the point one packer got down (off his horse) and physically removed the camera so they could proceed down the tral. Needless to say, Mr. Adams wasn’t too happy. First impressions weren’t too good. But we sure had a lot of his pictures around.

  7. Mary,
    What a great story about Ansel Adams. You should write that down so that it doesn’t get lost in time. It amazes me what some people will do for the perfect photo. I’m thinking of the man who died recently trying to photograph the tsunami.

  8. Melinda, Thank you! I just finished a book about a dime novelist set in the 1800s. I don’t know if being a writer back then was any easier than it is now. I wrote a couple of novels on a typewriter and I never want to do that again.

    Take care.

  9. Margaret, I loved the first two books. They were so funny, touching and exciting in turn. Can’t wait to read this one!

  10. Thanks Mary and I can’t wait to read Deep Trouble. The series I’m working on now–Brides of Last Chance Ranch–is also set in Arizona.

    I just read one of your reviews that said you sent the writing bar another notch higher. Gee, thanks.

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