Fort Wayne Stenographer

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”.

Click to enlarge

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.

Clipped image of Jessie A. (Armstrong) McDonald posted on Ancestry.com by RobertArmstrong1945, compared to clip from my found photo. Click to enlarge.

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


  1. Delight Harrison. Year: 1920; Census Place: Fort Wayne Ward 6, Allen, Indiana; Roll: T625_422; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 57 – via Ancestry.com. 
  2. Jessie McDonald. Year: 1920; Census Place: Fort Wayne Ward 6, Allen, Indiana; Roll: T625_422; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 57 – via Ancestry.com. 
  3. Jessie A. Armstrong. Ancestry.com. Indiana, U.S., Marriages, 1810-2001 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. 
  4. Ibid. 
  5. Jessie A. McDonald. Year: 1930; Census Place: Fort Wayne, Allen, Indiana; Page: 33B; Enumeration District: 0025; FHL microfilm: 2340310 – via Ancestry.com. 
  6. Clinton Faye McDonald. Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Death Certificates; Year: 1959; Roll: 14 – via Ancestry.com. 
  7. Jessie A. McDonald. Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Death Certificates; Year: 1982; Roll: 14 – via Ancestry.com. 

46 thoughts on “Fort Wayne Stenographer

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  1. I often wonder how old photos end up for sale and not connected to any families. Good for you for sleuthing out just where this beautiful photo might belong. I’m sure the granddaughters would be thrilled to get it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t realize how close I’d been to the solution at the time. I think Ancestry sometimes does not give you the answers to your searches. That photograph was posted in 2012!

      Like

  2. I found this fascinating! I do know how old photos get resold. When we moved in December 2020, I cleared out lots of closets and took photos and frames to a thrift store. I gave away two family photos that neither my husband or I knew who they were. Now I wish I hadn’t and had done some research.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are softwares that can also assist in identifying people in family photos. I saw a company that does this at the National Genealogical Society conference, but I haven’t tried it yet. I do think I will. It’s possible that Jessie’s family has a copy of this photo already.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow Eilene….good detective work! It was interesting how you came up with the answer. I hope those granddaughters appreciate your dedication to solving the mystery. That typewriter is something too – bat wings! I didn’t know searching a census database could provide that specific information.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, this is amazing! What great work!! I hope you find the granddaughters. I know how thrilled I’d be if someone found an old photograph of one of my ancestors.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Are you sure they aren’t there now? I moderate all comments, and sometimes it takes me a while to catch up. I remember seeing a comment from you.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. What a sleuth you are Eilene. I like how you narrowed down the possibilities and that you even knew of and photographed a similar typewriter. Hard to imagine typing on a contraption like that with its wide-set and high keys – for sure typists would get fingers caught in between the keys. This was an interesting read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Linda. I had no idea what the typewriter was. I did some searching online to find out about it. Then later came across one at the store. I think it’s pretty cool looking, and I love anything to do with bats.😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes I saw you said “batwing” typewriter – the first I heard of that. So you have an affinity for bats. My friend does too. She lives in Honeoye Falls, a rural NY town and loves to sit on her deck after dark and watch them flying around. Sometimes she takes her cat out there with her. She is braver than I would be. The rest of the family stays inside and are not bat fans.

        My mom had an old manual Royal typewriter in a black case. She used it through business school, kept it at home for correspondence and I used it throughout high school and college. What you went through if you made a mistake with the white chalky paper to fix your error helped make you a better typist. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I did have an old manual typewriter I got at an auction and was still (at that time) able to find a ribbon for it. The force it takes to press on those keys is incredible! I learned on an electric, but my dad also had a manual typewriter I played with as a kid. Always tried to press enough keys at one time to make them jam together!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ha ha – yes, if you were a fast typist, the keys would jam. I forgot about that. And the one thing with a manual typewriter is the cadence of pounding those keys and swinging the carriage back at the end of the line, put you into a whole rhythm that cannot be duplicated in word processing.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I was able to find the granddaughters online and mailed the photo to one of them. She was quite thrilled to receive my surprise package and we had a lovely conversation about it.

      Like

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