Women Photographers on Colorado’s Eastern Plains

My list of women active in the Colorado’s 19th century photographic trades numbers nearly 100.  I suspect that number is much larger if you consider the wives and daughters who worked behind the scenes in family studios.  For Women’s History Month, I have featured five women active on Colorado’s Eastern Plains.  Some women pursued photography as an occupation, often combined with teaching, like Clara Ensminger.  And while this blog focuses on professionals, I included one amateur photographer, Alice L. Parker, due to her extensive documentation of  schools and ranches on the plains.  

Ermina Harriet “Minnie” Darling Henson Dayton (1867-1942)         Minnie Darling was born on August 23, 1867, in Breckenridge, Missouri, northeast of Kansas City, to Charles Nelson Darling and Elenor Louise Huber Darling.  The family moved to Kansas in the mid-1870s.  The 1885 Kansas census lists 17-year old Minnie married with a 4 month old son and living with her parents. In 1889, Minnie married Bruce Dayton, with whom she would have a second child.

Minnie Dayton lived in Brush, Colorado in 1899, where she operated a photograph gallery on Colorado Avenue east of the high school.  She produced cabinet cards and stamp photographs.  In March 1900, Minnie moved to Alva, Oklahoma where her husband was homesteading.  After his death in 1901, Minnie proved up the land.  By 1920, Minnie returned to Colorado, living in Morgan County until her death.  

Clara Amelia Ensminger (1859-1936)                                                               Clara Ensminger was born in Ohio in 1859 to George William Ensminger and Adaline Hanna Ensminger.  She spent her childhood on the family farm in Tama, Iowa.  In 1875, the family moved to Grinnell, Iowa.  Between 1877 and 1880, Clara studied at Iowa College (now Grinnell College).  The 1880 census listed Clara as a teacher in Grinnell.  

Two children
Clara Ensminger, photographer, Yuma, CO, circa 1890. Julia Driver Collection of Women in Photography. General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

In 1884, Clara worked as a retoucher and finisher for photographer Charles Clifford in Newton, 20 miles west of Grinnell.  By December 1889, Clara lived in Yuma, Colorado where she operated a photography studio.  She also homesteaded 160 acres outside Yuma.  Clara spoke about geography to the Washington County Teacher’s Association in March 1893.  

By 1896, Clara was back in Iowa working again as a retoucher for Charles Clifford & Son in Muscatine, Iowa.  The following year she opened her own studio in Toledo, IA, hiring women as assistants and to cover for her when she traveled.  She often attended the annual Iowa State Photographers’ Association meetings.  Clara ran the photography studio until 1914, when she sold the business to Miss Lora Bingham, of Mount Tabor, Wisconsin.

Unidentified violist.
Clara Ensminger, photographer, Toledo, IA, circa 1900.  Unidentified violist. Julia Driver Collection of Women in Photography. General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Clara moved back to Colorado around 1919.  She lived with relatives and worked as a retoucher.  In the mid-1920s she moved to the Los Angeles area to live with her sister, Mrs. Charles Norris.  Clara Ensminger died at the age of 78 on November 16, 1936.  She is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.  

Aurelia “Marcella” Ensminger  (1857-1913), is the older sister of photographer, Clara Ensminger.  In 1876-1877, Marcella attended Iowa College’s (now Grinnell College) Ladies Preparatory school.  She taught school in Iowa before moving to Yuma, Colorado, where she continued her teaching career. She was listed in the 1893 Colorado State Business Directory as a photographer and teacher in Yuma, Colorado.  No examples of her photographic output have been found.  

Marcella  returned to Iowa in 1893.  She continued to teach and was considered one of the finest primary school teachers in Tama County, Iowa.   Marcella underwent cancer surgery in 1911 and 1912.  She died on May 2, 1913 and is buried in Helena Cemetery, Tama County, Iowa.  

school house
Alice L. Parker, photographer. School house, 1/2 mile west of Trego Place, 1895. Phillips County Museum.

Alice L. Parker (1865-1939) moved with her family in 1892 from Illinois to Sedgwick County, Colorado, where her parents, Bertrand DeRolf “B. D.” Parker and his wife, Caroline Farwell Parker started a sheep ranch.   

After a childhood illness, Alice walked with a cane and later in life used crutches.  Alice lived on the sheep ranch, south of Julesburg, for 14 years.   Her amateur photography documented day-to-day activities of the ranch and the local schools.    Later, she moved into town with her parents.  She was active in the Daughters of the American Revolution, serving as registrar.

In 1893, Alice’s brother, Cuthbert Farwell (C. F.) Parker graduated from Illinois State Normal school (now Illinois State University).  He returned to Sedgwick County, Colorado and taught school.  Alice photographed his students outside the schoolhouse in 1895.  Alice Parker died May 23, 1939 and is buried at Hillside Cemetery, in Julesburg, Colorado.

The Fort Sedgwick Historical Society’s collection includes enlargements made from Parker’s glass plate negatives held by her descendants.

Rhoda Wilson Eslick McClintock Blowers (b.c. 1862-1932)                    The Julesburg Grit reported that Mrs. R. Eslick planned to open a photo studio in Julesburg, Colorado in December 1898.  Unbeknownst to the local citizens, Eslick had married J. A. McClintock, owner of Julesburg’s livery stable, a few weeks earlier in Denver.  In January 1903, The Grit-Advocate announced that Mrs. McClintock “has gone east to enter a photograph college for high art photography.”  She returned to Julesburg in April, but by  November she had relocated to Tonganoxie, Kansas, leaving her husband in Colorado.  She reunited with her husband in the spring of 1905, when they moved their businesses to Norfolk, Nebraska, but by the fall of that year, Mrs. McClintock had left her husband and moved to Denver.  Her photographic career seemed to end at this time.  She later moved to Des Moines, Iowa and later Buffalo, New York, where she lived at the time of her death.

Thanks to Stan Busse and Jeana Johnson at the Fort Sedgwick Museum, and Carol Haynes and Hilda Hassler at the Phillips County Museum for their assistance during my visit.  Yale University generously provided the scans for Clara Ensminger’s photographs.  Thanks to Beverly W. Brannan for proofreading this post.  The Peter E. Palmquist Memorial Fund for Historical Photographic Research provided travel funds to visit these institutions.  

Author: 19thcenturycoloradophotographers_d5uooh

I am a former curator of photography at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, now living in Colorado. I created this blog to share my research on 19th century Colorado photographers.

4 thoughts on “Women Photographers on Colorado’s Eastern Plains”

  1. Find job here on this presentation. Interesting comparison to the women photographers in 19th century New Jersey in the same time period.

  2. It’s impressive that you have found so many women photographers–and the careers and types of work of the five you have shared in this wonderful post are quite varied. What a wonderful tribute to women for Women’s History month! Thank you!

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