Bust-length portrait of an unidentified African American girl, ca. 1891.  Photographer: Lewis Horning, Parlor Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, 1886-1894.  Gift of David Long, 2001.  Library Company of Philadelphia (https://librarycompany.org), Accession No. P.9981.11. 

Use CKC’s Digital Collections to Discover and Honor Black History

Within the contexts of knitting and crochet, CKC’s digital collections can be used to uncover and highlight the hidden histories and accomplishments of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color here in the United States and around the globe.  I recently searched CKC’s Library and Museum Collections for “African American” using the general “Search All Collections” box at the top right-hand corner of the landing page.*  My search returned 1173 results.

I selected the charming “cabinet card” style photograph, pictured above, to share with you today, entitled “Unidentified African American Girl”.  The abbreviated description available in the CKC record for the photo reads as follows:

Vignette portrait of a young girl with long hair wearing a crocheted neckerchief. Parlor Gallery, 525 S. Ninth Street, Philadelphia. Photographer’s imprint printed on mount. Title supplied by cataloguer. Parlor Gallery, operated by Lewis Horning, was in business at 525 South 9th Street from around 1886 until around 1894.

Clicking on the image takes you to the original collection where the photo is housed — in this case to The Library Company of Philadelphia’s (LCP’s) website, which has more than 500 photos in their remarkable African Americana Collection.  The approximate date given for the photo of the girl in the crocheted collar — ca. 1891 — was “inferred from the photographer and attire of the sitter.” The description of the photo in LCP’s collection gave some additional details:

Bust-length portrait of a young African American girl facing slightly right. She wears her curly hair in bangs at her forehead, with half of her long hair tied up and the rest draped behind her back. She is attired in small hoop earrings and a dress with a crocheted lace collar with a pin at the neck.

Searching Google for the name “Lewis Horning photographer,” revealed another collection of 53 late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century photographs of African Americans from Philadelphia, Maryland, Atlantic City, and Washington, D.C., entitled The Baltimore Collection.  Donated to the University of Delaware’s Special Collections Library in 2001, these images, and those at the Library Company, are rich historical resources, revealing much about the everyday lives of African Americans living in the mid-Atlantic region during this time period.

A student researcher at the University of Delaware, Kelli Coles, wrote an online essay entitled “A Trip to the Parlor Gallery,” dated November 29, 2017, that featured three portrait photos from The Baltimore Collection taken by Lewis Horning.  Coles included historical maps of Philadelphia marked to show where the Parlor Gallery, Lewis Horning’s home and studio, was located and described how close it was to the residences of several of the wealthier African American families living in the surrounding neighborhood.  Coles also wrote that the Seventh Ward of Philadelphia was racially diverse and had the largest population of Black residents in the city at that time.  Further, Coles wrote, “[g]iven that the photographs with the inscription of the Parlor Gallery from the Baltimore Collection and the Library Company of Philadelphia thus far have been photographs of people of African descent, this was a White-owned business receptive of the needs of their Black neighbors.”

Now that you have learned as much as I could discover about the girl in the photo, I hope you are as excited as I am about how easily free digital resources can open the door to new discoveries and greater understanding. Although most of the individuals and families pictured in The Library Company and University of Delaware photo collections are still unknown, it may be possible to learn more about them from other online sources, like census records and newspapers.  I encourage anyone interested to take this research to the next step!

Jennifer Lindsay, President
Center for Knit and Crochet
February 28, 2022

* To narrow or expand search terms, use the search window in the center of the landing page to add tags and keywords.