A woman is likely to have invented the 19th-century innovation in bereavement rites

These portraits visually reunite bereaved people with their loved ones. Some interpreted these photographs as evidence supporting “spiritualists” beliefs. The spiritualists believed that the soul continues to exist after death, and there is the possibility of continuing bonds and communication between living and the dead .

Mediumsmostly women, worked with spirit photographers to allow the “spiritual reappearance” of the dead. My research shows that women were integral to this development. I identify a woman who is likely the inventor of spirit photography.

Women’s Appeal

The advent of spirit photography was a highly publicized and exciting moment in Boston that continues today.

Some viewers of today find spirit photos amusing artifacts. Victorian viewers also became accustomed to translucence used in photos produced as entertainment or for popular storytelling. Some people, for example, collected and shared images produced by cameras that provided different views of the same scene in order to create the illusion of 3D. These objects were valuable to the bereaved, who had commissioned spirit photos.

Spiritualism‘s afterlife appealed to women who refused to believe that their children would be condemned to hell if they were not baptized. In this realm, all those who died young — including soldiers, children, and women who didn’t survive childbirth — are cared for, and emotional ties with them are maintained.

Spirit photographs, when viewed by sympathetic eyes, were proof of unending love. Some spiritualist groups still criticized them.

Fraud charges

The back of Mrs. W.H.’s calling card has a spirit photograph. Mumler is a clairvoyant doctor. (Ackland Art Museum at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Ackland Fund), provided by the author (no reuse).

William H. Mumler was accused of “obtaining money through pretended’spirit photographs“. Mumler was cleared of all charges after a long and public trial. He continued to work.

In Mumler’s pre-trial, the press reported that “Mrs. Stuart was the owner of the studios that produced Mumler’s original spirit photos. Stuart never appeared before a court. Mumler’s and Stuart’s methods were never proven, unlike many other spirit photographers who followed.

In my research, I found that Stuart was one of Boston’s most prolific photographers and the first woman to be listed in local directories. My research suggests that “Mrs.” was a pseudonym. Stuart was most likely an alias.

Many spirits photography accounts and important reports have pointed out the importance of further investigating the role of Hannah Mumler, William Mumler’s wife.

Commemorative hair jeweller

Hannah Frances Green, born in Marblehead in 1832, married Thomas Miller Turner in 1854 and had two children. Divorce documents state Green and her children had left by 1859.

In the same year that Green was adapting to her new life as a mother of two as a single woman, Mrs. A. M. Stuart’s name appeared in Boston directories both as a hair artist and as ” a hair work manufacturer” at the same address. Hairwork manufacturing is the Victorian craft of weaving hair to create art, jewelry, or ornaments as a commemorative item. She was listed as a Hair Artist again the following year.

Mrs. H.F. In 1861, Mrs. H.F. continued the production of the gift of “clairvoyance,”, as a way to diagnose problems or help facilitate healing through channeling spirits.

Hannah Green (Stuart), a hair jewelry producer, photographer, and clairvoyant doctor well into her 80s, was uniquely positioned for the innovative bereavement practices that spirit photography represents. In the Victorian era and before, women’s expertise was recognized as being integral to commemorative practice around death.

I have thus far located four spirit photographs that are positively attributed to Helen F. Stuart. This woman only appears in business listings during the period when Hannah Green(e), who is missing from public records, was alive.

‘Magnetic powers’

Mumler stated in a court statement that he had been alone when he took his first spirit photo. This was after his investigation and his indictment. Mumler claimed he based his conclusions on an unnamed male companion, but there is no reference to him.

In 1861, Mumler, the engraver, and Stuart, the jewelry manufacturer, are both listed as being located at 221 Washington St. in Boston.

Mumler likely created the “male friend” to hide his desire to receive instruction from a female (Stuart). He may have avoided admitting Hannah Green was there because she was still married to Turner. He may have wanted to shield her and her children from the scrutiny of the public as they moved to New York. Official records indicate that Mumler and Green were married in 1864 – months after Turner’s divorce was finalized.

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