American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Memory, Exhibit Object Focus

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Women's Work

Milliner and Daughter
[Milliner and Daughter]
Springfield, Illinois
Quarter-plate ambrotype,
hand-colored, ca.1854
Prints & Photographs Division

Occupational portraits of women taken during the early decades of photography are exceedingly rare. The millinery business was one of the few respectable occupations available to women who sought employment. Milliners could work in their homes while they raised their families. They were paid by the piece, which provided a very small income compared with factory work. By the mid-1850s the daguerreotype had been largely replaced by the ambrotype, a faster and less expensive photographic process that used a glass plate rather than polished metal.

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