Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday's Face from the Past: Risqué Photo

If you were hoping to see a Bloomfield photo from the surprise package I received yesterday, you are going to be disappointed. Those treasures are not quite ready to be shared, as there are too many questions and details I'd like to research first. Instead, I'm going to stick to my schedule, and share the photograph originally schedule for today's post. It promises to be almost as exciting as the Bloomfield bunch still resting in the envelope in which they arrived in.

This is an unusual photo from my collection. It's not an orphan photo, but rather features the new Mrs Bloomfield, my great-grandmother Minnie. The photo is dated and has a fairly large amount of writing on the back. Do you agree, it's a bit strange?

Minnie in Bed
Back in the twenties, folks tended to get dressed when they took the train and when they had their photo taken. Though photographs were becoming more affordable and common, they a certain aspect of glamour and novelty. When I first found Minnie's oldest photo album, I was surprised at the amount of photos she had and particularly the large number snapshots it contained. It almost seemed as if she had a camera, which surprised me, considering she did not have a lot of money. This photo, certainly indicates that Minnie or someone close to her owned a camera. It's quite an intimate shot, with Minnie lying in bed. Note: the dark bunched up section on the blanket which appears strange is actually the flowered comforter. The white duvet cover has a laced opening showing part of the comforter, which is easily discernable when you zoom into the photo with the help of the computer.

The writing on the back, in Minnie's own handwriting, provides interesting clues.

Back of the photo of Minnie lying in bed.
(Click to enlarge)

  • 12/26/1920
  • Please return. 
  • The other picture you have of me was taken in back of mother's house in the chicken coop. 
  • It doesn't look much like the back of a store does it.

Minnie and William Bloomfield were married Oct 23rd, 1920 in New York City, about two months before this photo was taken. For their honeymoon, they took a short trip, stopping in Springfield, Massachusetts to visit the Golds (mutual friends who were partially responsible for setting them up) and then heading to Laconia, where William introduced his new bride to his family. They ended up staying in New Hampshire and opening up a grocery shop.

Caption in the back reads:
Taken on our honeymoon Oct 30th, 1920
Sister Minnie
Minnie must have sent this photo to her brothers, along with a second photo from the honeymoon which she mentions in the blurb on the left. The photo of her "taken in back mother's house" is referring to a photo of Minnie feeding her mother-in-law's chickens (see left). That photo is dated Oct 30th, 1920 and signed sister Minnie. Amazingly, as Minnie requested, both photos were returned and found their rightful place back in Minnie's album.

The comment on the right refers to "the back of the store". I this comment references their new store, the Bloomfield Market, rather than her mother-in-law's grocery store which was located only a few miles away. My assumption implies that in the two months, when the honeymooners arrived in New Hampshire and the day after Christmas, when the photo of Minnie lying in bed was taken,  they were able to start their own business.

Two things lead me believe this is Minnie's own New Hampshire bedroom. The first is the comment about the back of the store. I know from her memoir (Stored Treasures), that they lived in a small room at the back of the store. The note to her brothers indicate that she told them about the store and their modest living arrangements. The second clue, is the framed photo above the bed. Easy to miss initially and difficult to make out, there is a single picture hanging on the wall above Minnie's head. Thanks to high resolution scanning and further zooming on the computer, I could easily recognize the Crane family portrait taken in 1918, when Minnie's brother Will returned safely from World War I.

Remember this photo?

It's one of the earliest family photographs in existence and the only one, with the five Cranes who made it to America, including Max who committed suicide a few years later. I have yet to see the original of this photo, all I have is a xerox copy. but I loved discovering that the original was hanging next to Minnie's wedding bed. I bet that when she sent the photo of herself in bed, she must have wanted her brothers to notice the portrait above her head, and I am pretty sure the didn't need a computer to take note.

Here is the big question? What was Minnie doing in bed? Was she sick? Why would she send a picture of herself in bed? It seems an odd way to show off her new home.

We many never know the answer to these questions. She doesn't look very ill in the photo. To me, she appears healthy and happy. In her memoir, she mentions falling ill to the Spanish Influenza in 1918, but she does not mention any sickness early in her marriage. I ran the date in my handy day of the Week Calculator, and discovered that Dec 26th, 1920 was a Sunday, the Sunday after Christmas. It's very possible the store was not open that sunday, and the new Mrs. Bloomfield could enjoy a lazy day in bed while her new husband snapped away risqué pictures of his bride. But why send such a picture to your siblings?

 My only guess is that she was in bed rest. My grandmother Ethel was born August 6th, 1921, eight months and ten days after this picture was taken. If she was born on time, then Minnie would have been barely three weeks pregnant in this photo. If Ethel was born a bit late, maybe Minnie was a much as five weeks along. Could she have been bleeding a bit? Did she know she was pregnant or was she hoping to conceive? Was the custom back then to stay remain in bed rest during the first trimester in order to improve the chances of a successful pregnancy? Perhaps by the time, she sent the photo, she knew she was pregnant in the photo and that is what she was showing off to her brothers.

I find it remarkable how much we can learn about Minnie from this one unusual photo. Much of the story behind the photo may be conjecture on my part, yet it comes from years of researching my ancestors and Minnie in particular. I'd love to hear what you think about these theories.


  1. This is a beautiful post, Smadar! The only "in bed" photo that I have from that era is of my great, great-grandmother in her hospital bed. I also love the photo hanging on the wall. It's so gratifying when you find a picture that shows an heirloom or photo in your ancestor's home. Then you really know it meant something to them!

    1. Thanks, Sarah. I'd love to see the photo of your great-grandmother in her hospital bed. It must be a sad photo, yet remarkable to have as well. I hope you'll share it on your blog one day! It was neat to be able to make out the photo on the wall. I've have other pictures with framed photos in the background, but I've never been able to make out what they are. This one really jumps out with the correct contrast and amplification.

  2. An off the wall guess might be that Minnie had horrible morning sickness. I've had some of those days when I hardly wanted to move, much less actually get out of bed. And yet it was a happy misery!

    Smadar, about the availability of cameras in that era: while you are certainly right about folks dressing up for the occasion of the taking of their portrait, evidently there were some shutterbugs who had access to cameras and loved toying with the new contraption. As you've seen in my series on my Bean family, we had one such relative from that time period in that line--he snapped just about everything he took a fancy to. Of course, he had the financial liberty to afford costly items. On the other hand, my paternal family in that time period also had a camera fanatic--but in this man's case, he didn't have the financial freedom to afford what we presume would be a costly hobby. He just had the interest, the technical know-how, and could figure ways to work around the expense. Perhaps Minnie's husband was such a person, too.

    1. I think you may have nailed it on the head with the morning sickness thought! She certainly looks like she is relatively happy with the misery! As for the camera happy person, I think you are right. It doesn't seem like there was such a person around Minnie before she got married. There are very few pictures from that period and even less informal snapshots. My guess is that it's William's doing. The earlier snapshots of him are mostly on printed as postcards, which suggest they me have even been taken by photographers on the streets. I've read that there were many photographers in cities like Houston (one of his stomping grounds) who would snap your photo and sell it to you. Once they got married, there seem to be a lot more photos of them in the house, in the store and much less formal. It's possible they bought a camera when they got married, or like you suggested, had a friend who was camera happy. Their daughter was infatuated with cameras since she was young, and she took over the roll later on.
      I do love your Bean family series! How grateful you must be that you had family members who were camera fanatics with and without the means!

  3. My grandparents had very little money and I would never have thought they had a camera when their children were young. One day I asked my mom who might have taken one of the pictures we have and she said, "Well I guess my mom took it, " and told me that my grandmother had owned a camera. Maybe there were some cheap models available. Something I haven't looked into.
    I thought morning sickness too. :)

    1. Kathy, I think both you and Jacqi are right. I'm pretty sure my great-grandparents must have had a camera by the time my grandmother was born, as there were quite a few pictures of her growing. They were poor, but not that poor. I'm going to do some research about the price of cameras in 1920. This gives me a lot of food for thought! Thank you both for your thoughtful comments. It's funny how even after looking at these Minnie's album for two years, examining one photo closely, writing about it and sharing it on the blog, can lead to new questions and take me in an unexplored direction.

  4. I think you nailed it. If you only had the letter that accompanied the photos to Minnie's brothers, my bet would be that she was announcing her pregnancy & the accompanying morning sickness combined with then pride & joy of expecting a child! Great detective work Smadar!

    1. I bet you are correct and I'm sure there was a letter! I also find it note worthy that the writing was in English. Only seven years after arriving in America, her communication with her siblings was in English. I wonder if the letter would have been in English or Yiddish?

  5. I love old photos, and I think you may always have more questions than answers. Lying in bed is a curious one! Great catch finding the family photo hanging on the wall, too!

    1. You are so right Sally. The more answers we find, the more questions they generate! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


Thanks for sharing your comments!