Found Photo Project #3
By Eilene Lyon
I purchased this unusual image from the local antiques store in 2019. It does not have any personal identification on it, but based on a number of clues, I do believe I have identified the subject. Hopefully the photograph will be on its way to a family member soon.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of this photograph is its size. This is not a carte de visite. The backing board measures nearly 10” x 12” and the image is a little over 6” x 8”.
The first clue is the photographer’s mark: “Standish – Ft. Wayne.” Photographer Norman P. Standish had a studio in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, from 1909–1924. The News-Sentinel website has an article about and photograph of Standish at one of his studios. He had another one in downtown Ft. Wayne.
The second clue is the ring set on the sitter’s left hand, indicating she is married. It was uncommon for married women to be working in that time period, which makes me suspect it may have been a job she acquired due to World War I. Roughly 3,500 men from Allen County served in the war.
The third clue is, of course, the fact that the woman in the picture is working at a typewriter. I had never seen one like this before. It turns out to be an Oliver bat wing. In 2020, I ran across one at the same antiques store, though I think it is a smaller model.
In the 1920 census, women who worked as secretaries or typists were given the occupation of “stenographer.” I searched for married stenographers in Ft. Wayne who might be in their mid-20s and came up with two good possibilities:
Naoma Delight Caston Harrison (b. 1895), employed by a stock food company.1
Jessie A. Armstrong McDonald (b. 1894), employed by a retail clothing company.2
The fourth clue is that the subject appears to be seated in a second-story office on a main street, probably in downtown Ft. Wayne. A retail clothing company seemed a fitting probability for such a location.
Though my searches in 2019 did not turn up any images of either of these women, I spent a bit more time on it this week and did find a photograph of an older Jessie McDonald that convinced me I have the right person.
Jessie Ann Armstrong was born October 16, 1894, in Wabash County, Indiana.3 She joined an older sister and two older brothers. Another brother came along in 1900. They were the children of Albert Dawes Armstrong and Margaret Ella Shiles.
Jessie married Clinton F. McDonald on November 27, 1918.4 Clint worked as a tool maker in an electric factory in 1920, but later became an organizer in the labor movement. In 1930, Jessie worked as a secretary for a Realtor.5 She and Clint had their only child, daughter Jane Ellen, in 1931 and it appears that Jessie quit working at that time.
Clint passed away in 1959, and Jessie apparently went back to work.6 Her daughter was the informant on her death certificate in October 1982. She stated that Jessie’s usual occupation was “secretary” and her employers were Pollak Brothers (a manufacturing company) and Miller’s Cafeteria.7
I believe, based on Ancestry trees, that Jessie has a couple granddaughters. They should have this lovely portrait of their grandmother.
Feature image: Ft. Wayne stenographer working at an Oliver bat wing typewriter, believed to be Jessie A. (Armstrong) McDonald. Photographer, N.P. Standish.
Jessie A. Armstrong at Ancestry.com
- Delight Harrison. Year: 1920; Census Place: Fort Wayne Ward 6, Allen, Indiana; Roll: T625_422; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 57 – via Ancestry.com. ↩
- Jessie McDonald. Year: 1920; Census Place: Fort Wayne Ward 6, Allen, Indiana; Roll: T625_422; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 57 – via Ancestry.com. ↩
- Jessie A. Armstrong. Ancestry.com. Indiana, U.S., Marriages, 1810-2001 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Jessie A. McDonald. Year: 1930; Census Place: Fort Wayne, Allen, Indiana; Page: 33B; Enumeration District: 0025; FHL microfilm: 2340310 – via Ancestry.com. ↩
- Clinton Faye McDonald. Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Death Certificates; Year: 1959; Roll: 14 – via Ancestry.com. ↩
- Jessie A. McDonald. Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Death Certificates; Year: 1982; Roll: 14 – via Ancestry.com. ↩