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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Women in Photography

One of the largest collections in the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History is the Scurlock Studio Records, containing photographs, business records, and related materials which represent the life work of two generations of African American photographers in Washington, D.C. The Scurlock Studio was a multi-faceted photographic business from its founding by Addison Scurlock in 1911 until the death of his son Robert in 1994. Another son, George, also worked for the studio for many years. It was a true family enterprise—although other photographers and technicians were employed by the studio over the years—because Addison’s wife, Mamie Estelle Fearing Scurlock, was a mainstay as receptionist, secretary, and accountant. Shown here in a 1955 photograph taken in the studio are Addison and Mamie, who was known in the family as “Essie.”

Mamie Scurlock’s function in the business was vital, but it was very traditional. Ever since the first photographic studios opened in the 19th century, many wives of photographers served as receptionists, photographic assistants, and darkroom technicians. When a photographer died, his wife often continued to operate the business, whether under his name or her own, perhaps hiring male photographers or serving as sole photographer herself. Nowadays women don't have to marry photographers in order to become one! In the late 20th century, an increasing number of female photographers were able to pursue rewarding careers as photographers on their own merits, and many women are renowned in all areas of photography.
David Haberstich


  1. Great post, David! And especially worthy of noting during Women's History Month.

  2. I am a little familiar with the Scurlock history, but had no idea what a vital role Mamie played. Thank you for writing this post.