“Now I lay me down to sleep”
Stereoviews often portrayed scenes of domestic life, with people in costumes and staged settings. Such narrative scenes were generally meant to entertain or amuse. Some, especially the ones with children, were designed to touch a sentimental chord in the viewer. The subject of children saying bedtime prayers was a popular one, evoking thoughts of shelter, comfort, and gratitude for the blessings of family and home.
Published by Strohmeyer and Wyman of New York (1896-1901), the image above seems to challenge those conventions. The child’s bed looks clean and cozy enough, but the rest of the room lacks furniture or other comforts. The room is clearly an attic, with boards and debris piled on the left and the little girl’s clothes dropped on the floor to the right. Other than the clothes, no toys or symbols of childhood are visible. The room looks drafty and dark. It would be a dreary scene if not for the cat lying on the girl’s bed, looking toward the viewer and reassuring us that things might not be as bad as they seem.
What was the photographer trying to tell us with this composition? I think he or she wanted us to remember, first of all, that not every child is surrounded by material comforts. The presence of the cat may also communicate that this little girl has at least two of the things she needs most–shelter and companionship–and that we ourselves might have much to be grateful for, even in difficult times.