“Pretty little Ruth”

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.

'Pretty little Ruth' by George Hooper 5

So, what do you think, was “Ruth” really a Quaker, or was she just having fun?

'Pretty little Ruth' by George Hooper 4

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.

26 thoughts on ““Pretty little Ruth”

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    1. She’s wearing lace gloves, which were a common element of women’s formal wear in the 1850s, but I think they were uncommon after that. They seem very out of place here, especially in conjunction with the rest of her outfit. Good to hear from you, Stephen!

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  1. She doesn’t resemble other people in 19th century photos who are identified as Quakers, and their clothing is distinctive. (A bit like the Amish or Mennonites we might see nowadays.) She looks like a baker or cook of some sort, except for the lacy black gloves! Cool Photo. The typography on the photographer’s card is way over-the -top!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I thought the same as Shayne. She looks like a baker. Although, those lovely black lace gloves are definitely not baker’s wear. It’s interesting that Ruth is underlined adding emphasis. I wonder if the handwriting could have been added later and “Pretty Little Ruth” was a fond nickname used by someone who was close to her. She’s a lovely mystery. Happy Halloween, Brad! ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t imagine a Quaker wearing lace gloves. For that matter (and given what little I know about Quakers) a photo like this doesn’t seem to fit with their traditions. That said, there are some interesting points made in this article. I found it while trying to figure out if “Quakeress” was a real term. (It was, and is.) Perhaps Ruth was testing the boundaries a bit. Rebellion can take many forms, after all!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 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.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Fantastic Michael, you may have solved the riddle! She probably gave the photo to a friend, maybe someone she worked with. Would you mind if I added your comment to the text of the post?

      Following up on your comment, I found a reference to “Quakeress Ruth” from 1897, with words by T.A. McWheeney and music by John Crook, performed by Lottie Collins. However, the 1897 version could have been inspired by an earlier song.

      I also found a delightful poem titled “Quakeress Ruth” from 1896, published by an American author 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 near Baltimore, Maryland. I haven’t researched Culbertson, but one website mentions that she traveled and collected stories she heard. I don’t know if her “Quakeress Ruth” was based on one of those.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes of course Brad.

        The origins of the ballad probably lie much earlier, but McWheeny could amend the words and benefit from the sheet music sales.

        And also, two details refer back to themes from your previous posts – black accessories for mourning, and a full length portrait of a young woman in working clothes (Isle of Wight).

        Liked by 1 person

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