Along the bottom of this carte-de-visite is a handwritten inscription:
Oh! A very shy young Quakeress am I
And they call me Pretty little Ruth
When I first published this post, I speculated that these lines might have come from a play, and that the young woman in the photograph might have been wearing a costume (fancy dress). Several readers noted that she looks more like a cook than a Quaker. One reader, Michael, commented:
A charming image, and a private joke with the recipient!
The inscribed words struck me as part of a sentimental song or street ballad. Sure enough, in the British Library catalogue there is a ballad called “Quakeress Ruth” with words by T.A. McWeeny. There are other “Quakeress” songs listed, perhaps variations on the same ballad. Alas, the lyrics are not printed.
The lady is not a Quaker though, the fancy gloves make that clear. I think she was a lacemaker or lace finisher, but her employer-enforced working clothes made her look like a Quakeress, hence the joke.
Following up on Michael’s comment, I found a reference to the song “Quakeress Ruth” from 1897, with words by T.A. McWheeney and music by John Crook, performed by Lottie Collins. I would add that this 1897 version could have been inspired by an earlier song.
I also found a delightful poem titled “Quakeress Ruth,” published in 1896 by an American author and storyteller named Anne Virginia Culbertson. The poem’s narrator says the events of the story took place more than a century earlier, in a small town in Maryland, USA. I haven’t found much information about Culbertson, but one website says that she traveled and collected stories she heard. I wonder if her “Quakeress Ruth” was based on one of those.
The portrait was made in London by a photographer named George Hooper (1843-1880). I haven’t found any other photographs by him online. In 1874 he submitted an article on “Albumenized Paper” to The Photographic News (London) from the address below (Winwood House, 68, Canonbury Park South, N.). I’d therefore date the photo to the early 1870s.
So, what do you think, was “Ruth” really a Quaker, or was she just having fun?
Note: there’s a small spot under her left eye, barely visible above, which I removed in the featured image at the top of this page.
Post updated November 2, 2021.