National Portrait Gallery Presents “Women of Progress: Early Camera Portraits”

May 1, 2019
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Lucy Stone by an unidentified photographer

Credit: Lucy Stone by an unidentified photographer, half-plate daguerreotype, c. 1855. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will display photographs of 19th-century activists and professionals in “Women of Progress: Early Camera Portraits,” a presentation of 10 daguerreotypes and two ambrotypes from the museum’s extensive collection of antebellum portraits. This focused exhibition will explore the increasing visibility of American women in society before the Civil War and the corresponding advent of portrait photography. Organized by Ann Shumard, senior curator of photographs, “Women of Progress” is part of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, “Because of Her Story,” and is one of seven exhibitions in the Portrait Gallery’s 2019–2020 program to highlight women in history. “Women of Progress: Early Camera Portraits” will be displayed on the museum’s first floor June 14 through May 31, 2020.

The Portrait Gallery’s exhibition will reacquaint visitors with the fascinating lives of 13 memorable Americans. “In the 1840s and 1850s, the growing presence of women in public life coincided with the rise of portrait photography,” Shumard said. “As a result, women who were making their mark in endeavors as varied as journalism, literature, abolitionism and the burgeoning women’s rights movement became sought-after subjects for the camera.”

Those featured in the exhibition will include Dorothea Lynde Dix, activist and educator who sought humane treatment for people with mental illness; Margaret Fuller, editor and women’s rights advocate; Lucretia Mott, abolitionist and co-organizer of the Seneca Falls Convention; Lucy Stone, suffragist and a founder of the American Equal Rights Association; and Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Other pioneers are the actress Laura Keene, the first woman manager of a major theater in New York City and Mary Ann Brown Patten, the first woman to command a sailing ship around Cape Horn. The exhibition will also highlight the abolitionists Emily and Mary Edmonson, who are pictured in a daguerreotype with Frederick Douglass at the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law Convention in Cazenovia, New York. Funding for the exhibition was made possible by the National Portrait Gallery’s Women’s Initiative Leadership Committee including Capital One and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.  

National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of the United States through the individuals who have shaped American culture. Spanning the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story.

The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at Eighth and F streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Connect with the museum at, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Because of Her Story

“Women of Progress: Early Camera Portraits” is part of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, “Because of Her Story.” The initiative is one of the country’s most ambitious undertakings to research, collect, document, display and share the compelling story of women. It will deepen our understanding of women’s contributions to the nation and the world. More information about the initiative is available at

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