Four Female Photo Retouchers in 19th Century Denver

Photo studios hired artists to retouch or “improve” negatives before making prints, often hiring women for these positions.   As the stories below illustrate, the field attracted young, single women and widows in need of employment.  The work could be done at the studio or in the retoucher’s home.

Retouchers used a variety of lead pencils, a magnifying glass and varnish to eliminate wrinkles or freckles from sitter’s faces.  Hands, hair and drapery may also benefit from retouching. In-depth manuals on retouching were published.  In 1900, retouchers earned anywhere from 20 cents to $1 per negative.

Mrs. Wybro
J. O. Roorback, artist. [Portrait of Lottie Wybro, albumen silver print of cdv mount.
Charlotte “Lottie” Wybro. Charlotte Fran “Lottie” Comer was born in New York State in 1844.  At seventeen, she married Jesse Wybro, who was described on their marriage license as “partly Indian.”  They wed at Gravesvillle, Wisconsin.  The Wybros lived in Wisconsin through 1875, raising two children.  A third child was born in Missouri.   Shortly afterward the family relocated to Kansas City, KS and then Russell, Kansas in 1877.

Jesse Wybro died the following year, leaving his wife with three young children to raise.  The local paper reported that the eldest child, Harry, who was twelve years old, would attend to his father’s business.  The 1880 census lists Harry at age fourteen, employed as a clerk in a store.

The Russell Record (Russell, KS, August 9, 1877) reported on Mrs. Wybro’s artistic skills, mentioning a painting of Yosemite Falls and a Swiss homestead.  Local businesses often exhibited her oil paintings.

In 1884 the Wybros moved to Denver.  Lottie worked as a retoucher and later an artist in Denver.  The Denver city directory did not note which photo studio she worked with.  By 1900, the family relocated to California where Charlotte’s daughter, Jessie attended the University of California.  Jessie became a respected high school educator, praised for her skill in teaching Spanish and Greek.

Lottie Wybro died at her home in Glendale, California on October 8, 1914 at the age of seventy.  Her remains lie at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, CA.

Zipporah Harlan                                                                                                                Zipporah Harlan was born in Preble County, Ohio on December 11, 1853.  She ran a corset business in Dayton, Ohio in the late 1870s.  The 1883 Dayton City Directory lists Zipporah as a retoucher.  In 1884, Zipporah relocated to Denver, Colorado where she worked as a retoucher for Bates & Webb (William L. Bates and John. T. Webb).   She may have moved out of the city for a few years, as she doesn’t appear in the Denver city directories again until 1889 when her occupation is listed as a stenographer, a job she held through 1891.  Details about her life after that date are undocumented.

Metta Jane Trousdale.                                                                                                           Metta Jane Trousdale (also spelled Truesdale) was born on December 19, 1865 in Juda, Wisconsin to Dr. James Lowry Trousdale and Harriet Emma Gray Trousdale.  After Dr. Trousdale’s death in 1874, Harriet married Claus Buenz.  In 1880, the family resided in Park County, Colorado.  

In 1890, Metta Jane Truesdale began work as a photographic retoucher in St. Paul, Minnesota, for Frank Jay Haynes, best known for his photographs of Yellowstone.  The following year she relocated to Denver, Colorado, and obtained employment with the photographic firm of Rose & Company.  She remained at the firm until 1893 when she married Truman D. Ross.  Ross made his living as a debt collector in Denver.  After his death, Metta moved to Exeter, New Hampshire to live with her daughter’s family.  She died on January 26, 1953, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Metta Jane Ross was buried at Oak Grove Cemetery on Martha’s Vineyard.  

Georgia “Georgie” Stover                                                                                         Georgia M. Stover was born in October 1871 in Ironton, Ohio, a town on the Ohio River in the southernmost part of the state.  Her father, Richard, worked as a pattern maker and her mother, Ella, was a housekeeper.

The Stover family moved to Denver around 1888, where Richard found employment at a foundry and machine shop.  In 1891, Denver photographer, Dana B. Chase hired Georgia as a retoucher.  She left his employ in 1898, to work for his ex-wife, the photographer B. B. Chase.  On November 30, 1900, less than five weeks after her mother’s death, Georgia Stover died at the age of twenty-nine.  She is buried in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery.

Thank you to Beverly Brannan, former photo curator, Library of Congress and Erin Waters ( for proof-reading this post.