Around the dawn of the 20th century there was a new type of independant lady making waves. Charles Dana Gibson personified these new women into beautiful, but haughty, caricatures. The reality was that many of the energetic, young women of the day were simply more engaged in their friendships and in adventures than had been the norm for women in the 1800s. A stash of old photographs from one such group shows how much zest for life these gals had- and how much they valued their friends.
Theresa Parker Babb was was married to Charles W. Babb, treasurer of the Knox Woolen Mill in Camden, Maine. But, married or not the photographs she took show that she loved a girls’ weekend. A trove of photographs taken by her show a wealth of adventures and hobbies, from taking tea on fine china to sitting dangerously close to the edge of a cliff overlooking mountains, this friend group had no problem being sporty and adventurous in corsets and lace.
Gibson girls, unlike the career-minded “new women”, were ever adventurous but always ladylike. Camping, hiking, boating, goofing around, or having high tea were all on the table.
The trips that Babbs and her sister, Grace Parker, took were then thoughtfully photographed by Babb. This in itself was a new trend. Cameras of the early 20th century were often marketed towards women who encompassed this independence (tempered with a hefty dose of sentimentality).
Women during tis era also began to see each other as the primary relationships in each other’s lives. Female friendship throughout the 1800s had been romanticized – not only in novels like Emma, but also through autograph or friendship books and through the increasing use of cameras. By the 1910s young women with cameras were documenting their friendships with regularity. They assembled a photo timeline of their youths, something that had never been done before.
Today this series of photographs, taken between 1898 and 1900, is in the collection of the Walsh History Center at the Camden Public Library in Maine, having been donated by Babb’s daughter, Janaan Babb Vaughn, after her mother died in 1948.