Richly varied photo album depicting student life at Mills College in Oakland shortly after it was chartered as the first women’s college west of the Rockies.
Large oblong album (15x11inches) ‘Photographs’ in gilt to upper, textured cloth covered board. Light wear to edges but the binding remains sound, though some weakening to the cloth covering over the inner hinges. Bookseller label of ‘Hirsch, Kahn & Co.... Photo Supplies, 333 Kearny Street - San Francisco’ to front pastedown, above a pressed plant laid diagonally across the leaf. 25 card leaves on which are mounted 39 large format photos (c8x5 inches) in rectangular, square and circular formats and 150 smaller format image (c4x3 inches) including one cyanotype on the first leaf, otherwise albumen prints, mostly annotated with places, dates and names. Much finger marking to the textured cloth covering the cardboard pages, a little insect damage to some leaves but images almost entirely unaffected. Almost all these images seem to be previously unknown, most being candid shots of the women students that can only have been taken by other women on campus. The exception to this is large photograph of ‘The Faculty of Mills College’ (9.5x7.5 inches) which has an indecipherable blank photographer’s stamp on the lower right corner - the image includes the founder, Mrs Mills, in the centre left. The two large photographs of students acting in ‘Sappho at Mills /91 Daisy Gilmore, Jessie Norton, Marie Coue’ are known images currently in the Mills College archive where they are attributed to R C Davis. The importance of these two images to the album maker is emphasised by the way that they bookend the contents of the volume, appearing at eigher end. Additionally a double-portrait image is laid in which has the details of ‘East Oakland Gallery... H Wohleb’ on the verso. ($3500)
The album begins with an affectionate cyanotype portrait of two young women cuddled together on a fur rug, possibly from another stage production with, adjacent, two paper cutouts tipped in, one inscribed: ‘Even this the power of Music The Soul is swayed’, a line taken from Mrs Hale’s poem, The Power of Music, and a second paste-in with a drawing of a guitar. To the left of the image, something had been removed. The faculty portrait appears overleaf, to be followed by portraits of ‘The Serenade Society at Mills’, groups of young women in the grounds, usually labelled with their names, sequences of intimate images such as ‘Feast at Mills’, ‘Safe Library at Mills’ and a long set of images taken during the Easter holiday in 1891. These show a group of women visiting ‘Pescadero Beach Easter of ‘91’ where they stayed in a cottage and enjoyed heavily dressed beach trips. A single image shows ‘The only man in Pescadero’. This sequence which runs over several pages shows the women enjoying themselves on the beach in a variety of silly poses completed by ‘Mrs Coue here ends our Pescadero trip and holidays of /91’. Back on campus the young women are seen playing tennis, taking ‘Our last tea at College Hall. Mills’ (one of their number standing on the balcony has been scratched out as if in revenge), they consume, ‘The last oysters’, are seen ‘After the dance’ as well as in a group portrait with parasols of the ‘Seminary class of /89 Mills’. ‘A Study in Grief’ precedes the two text pages after the death of what appears to have been a pet dog, complete with mock funeral oration, coffin photographs and the epitaph, ‘Mud to mud... Dog to waterdogs.’ A costume call for a production of of Mary Barnard Horne’s Peak Sisters, pictures the cast in ranked in height order, wearing the peaked white hats required by the playwright. Elsewhere the women are pictured with long faces in front of a ‘No Visitors on Sunday’ sign, annotated ‘What Next?’ as well as many images of them larking around, feet up on furniture, pretending to study and write. Altogether a wonderfully uplifting collection that depicts an early phase of women’s higher education. Cyrus and Susan Mills purchased the Young Ladies’ Seminary in Benicia in 1871 when they moved it to the Oakland foothills with the College winning its full charter in 1885 and awading its first bachelor degrees in 1889 when this album begins.