Thursday, November 22, 2012

Bertha Stoneman and other Students, Cornell University, 1889

Every now and then we come across a photo that is out of the ordinary, and we think this is one.  On the surface, it's just a slightly interesting photograph - a group of young people, looks like late teens to early 20s, nicely dressed in the much more formal fashions of the day.  What makes this really  interesting though, is what's written on back.

First, there was a name.   The first name was obviously "Bertha", but I originally thought the last name was "Stoniman", but my wife looked at it and said it was "Stoneman". Following that is "Anti T.N.E. Picnic,  C.U. 89", then below that (in what looks like different handwriting, but I'm no expert)  "Five miles walk to Trumansburg May 25."  Below that is the photographer's stamp "W.L. Hall, Trumansburg, N.Y."

So we googled "Bertha Stoneman" and found she was well known in Botany circles in the late 19th & early 20th centuries.  She was born in western New York to a prominent family in 1866.  She was a graduate of Cornell University, class of 1894, and received a Doctorate of Science in Botany in 1896.  She joined the faculty of Wellington College in Cape Colony (South Africa) and apparently remained there for the rest of her life.  In 1906 she authored a text book "Plants and their ways in South Africa".  She served as president of Wellington College from 1928 to 1933, when she retired.
Armed with the knowledge that Bertha Stoneman attended Cornell University,  and knowing that Trumansburg, NY is very close to Ithaca (google maps), and roughly knowing the age of the cabinet card based on the clothing of the subjects as well as the style of the photograph mounting,  we concluded that "C.U. 89" meant Cornell University 1889.   Once we figured that out, we determined that T.N.E. was probably Theta Nu Epsilon, a fraternity or secret society of some sort (I suppose of ill-repute).  And this photograph was a perhaps a memento when at least10 people walked to Trumansburg and had a picnic along the way somewhere.
We've seen pictures of Bertha Stoneman when she was older, and we believe she is in the middle row on the extreme right in this photo.
If anyone knows anything else about this photo, feel free to let us know.
It is rare to find something like this where you can find out so much about the person. Without the writing on back, this would be just another somewhat interesting photograph.
This Cabinet photo was just in with a larger group we purchased - I wonder about it's travels.  I wonder who owned it and how in the heck did it end up in our possession?
Update: Sold!

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