Is your ancestor’s job included in these
19th-century occupational portraits at the Library of Congress?

The Prints and Photographs Division highlights these images in the article “Profiling Portraits: Occupational Portraits of the 19th Century.” These compelling images can help add context to your research and and a great understanding the surroundings, tools, and dress for the kinds of jobs your ancestors did.

19th Century Occupational Portraits 19th Century Occupational Portraits

Librarian  writes:

“We start our exploration in the mid-19th century, around the birth of the photographic portrait, when portraits suddenly took minutes to create, instead of hours. Studio portraits commonly included props, furniture and backdrops. However, occupational portraits took the use of supplemental objects to a new level. Subjects indicated their occupation or trade through the items in hand and the clothes they wore. In some cases, they even pretended to work at their chosen profession. When people prepare to pose for a portrait, they often put on their finest clothing. What drives a person to change into their work clothes and hold an implement of  their trade, instead?

The daguerreotype, one of the earliest photographic formats, was often used for portrait photography, and many of our collections’ occupational portraits are in this one-of-a-kind, 19th-century format.”

The featured image above is a 19th-century occupational portrait of a peddler, standing with two bags held at his sides by a harness, neck brace visible between legs. The daguerreotype by Myers, between 1840 and 1860. //

Above left, the photograph “In the Workroom” is an occupational portrait of taxidermist Martha A. Maxwell with animal specimens, palette, and rifle. The photo was copyrighted 27 October 1876 October 27.  //

Above right is an occupational portrait of two African American chimney sweeps. Photo by Charles D. Fredricks & Co., between 1860 and 1870. //

For other occupations featured in this article, click here. And for 47 occupational portraits digitized from the Prints and Photographs Division, click here.

One of my prized possessions is an occupational portrait of my grandmother at work in a Chicago sweatshop. Do you have occupational portraits of your ancestors or relatives at work? Time for show-and-tell in the comments.