Eliza Ann Whitney was born in Hillsboro, New Hampshire in November 1832. Her first husband, John B. Hammatt, died in 1854. On January 1, 1856 Eliza married George H. Chandler in Montague, Massachusetts. This union ended in divorce. Her third marriage took place on December 20, 1869 in Johnson County, Iowa to photographer, William H. Masters. Undoubtably, Eliza learned photography from Masters.
The couple resided in Denver, Colorado in 1873, where William Masters operated a photo studio at 372 Larimer Street. Unfortunately, by the spring of 1874, the couple had split up. Mrs. Masters moved to Fort Collins and established one of the city’s first photo studios. Her husband filed for divorce in November 1875, citing willful desertion.
Her decision to live in Fort Collins may have been prompted by plans to establish a telegraph line through the growing city. Masters, an experienced telegraph operator, could combine occupations under one roof, with the likelihood of providing enough income to live on her own.
Right before opening her business, a horse and buggy accident left Mrs. Masters with a badly sprained ankle and several bruises. The mishap occurred between Fort Collins and Denver when the horse was spooked, throwing Mrs. Masters from the carriage. Masters spent two weeks convalescing in Greeley, Colorado.
By August 1874, Mrs. Master’s gallery was up and running. A couple of weeks later, the telegraph office opened in her rooms and Masters offered to teach the telegraphy craft to others. But running the two businesses did not bring financial success. The local newspaper reported that money was tight and that Masters would accept ranch products in exchange for work.
Masters moved to Greeley, Colorado by the summer of 1876, offering portraits, cartes de visite, large photographs and views of residences. She claimed she made a speciality of portraits of babies. A couple of months later, she advertised her photographic work under the surname of her first husband, Mrs. E. A. Hammatt.
After her time in Greeley, Hammatt’s whereabouts are unknown until 1884, yet her close-up head and shoulders portrait of the ethereal-looking baby shown above may forecast her interest in the spirit world.
Hammatt left the photographic field to pursue a decades-long interest in spiritualism. Her family disapproved of this profession, and forced her into a California mental institution for several months. Following her release, Hammatt traveled around the country giving lectures on spiritualism. Her experience in the mental institution understandably left her with an enduring interest in assisting other spirit mediums. She purchased land in San Diego County and planned to open a home for ill and retired mediums and orphaned children.
Based in California, newspaper journalists described Hammatt “as a lady of striking appearance; she has a firm, resolute expression, and possesses high intellectual acquirements and is a very intelligent conversationalist.” In 1886, she participated in Oakland, California’s Spiritualists’ Summer Assembly, occupying Tent No. 41. The Oakland tribune reported that “She has a materializing cabinet inside of a protective rubber string room, which is one of the central attractions in the camp grounds. This lady has a wide reputation in mediumship, and has given satisfaction to those who have tested her powers, and she claims to be giving entire new knowledge from the spirit world, which she is in possession of. Mrs. Hammatt can be consulted at her tent until the close of the camp meetings.”
Eliza Ann Hammatt died in California in 1908. It is unknown if she was successful in opening her home for mediums.
Thank you to Elisabeth Parker, former assistant chief, Prints & Photographs Division, Washington, D.C., for proof-reading this post. Jori Johnson, Collections Access Coordinator, History Colorado provided research assistance. Keegan Martin, Digital Imaging Assistant, History Colorado and Naomi Saito at The Beinecke Library provided the scans.