This cabinet card portrait was made at a studio in the port city of New Bedford, Massachusetts. The studio belonged to a man named John O’Neil. Google didn’t turn up any information about Mr. O’Neil, so I looked at census records on Ancestry. In the 1880 U.S. Census, I found a John E. O’Neil, age 19, whose occupation was “Picture Gallery.” He was living with his mother Eliza (widowed), three brothers and two sisters. John and his younger brother were born in Massachusetts, while their parents and four older siblings were born in Ireland. John’s oldest sibling, Thomas F. (age 28), was occupied by “Work in Shoe Factory.” The second-oldest, Patrick J. (age 26), was a “Mariner.” Their sisters, Katy E. (age 23) and Mary E. (age 21), were both “At Home.” The youngest child, William H. (age 17), was “At School.”
I then found the family in the 1870 Census, once again without the father listed, but in this case the mother’s marital status wasn’t listed. Her occupation was “Keeping House,” from which I would infer that her husband was still alive. Perhaps he was at sea?
Returning to the portrait, the young harpist isn’t identified. I wonder if we can tell anything about her from her outfit? In the nineteenth century, New Bedford’s maritime and textile industries attracted waves of immigrants from Ireland, Portugal and Poland. Her outfit could have been inspired by one particular culture, or by a combination of cultures.
On a side note, in 1897, while visiting his grandfather Warren Delano II in nearby Fairhaven, fifteen-year-old Franklin Delano Roosevelt stopped into John O’Neil’s studio:
(You can read about FDR’s connections to Fairhaven and New Bedford in this article by local historian Peggi Medeiros.)
In July 2017, when this blog was only three months old, I shared another cabinet card by John O’Neil. That portrait of a group of young women in Classical costume can be seen in the post In Costume in New Bedford.