C. M. Bell Studio Collection: Newly Digitized Portraits

“…the great success of Mr. Bell is due to his suavity of manner coupled with high artistic ability, and to the gentlemanly deportment observed by his corps of assistants. The rule is, politeness to everybody.” –Photographic Times and American Photographer, Sept. 1, 1883.

From the 1870s until the 1910s, tens of thousands of people in Washington, D.C. came to the C. M. Bell Studio for a photographic portrait. Residents and visitors alike sat for the camera, including political figures, businessmen, educators, entertainers, church leaders, athletes, foreign visitors and more. Bell also photographed Indian visitors to the capital, sometimes at the behest of government entities such as the Department of the Interior and Bureau of American Ethnology. Otherwise, customers for the studio were mostly white or African American, and included families posed together in their Sunday best, children and family pets, young ladies in their finest gowns, men with impressive mustaches, and babies possibly facing their first cameraman. Some wear the clothing of their chosen profession: military, police, clergy, baseball player. Others are capturing milestone moments such as graduations and weddings.

Through the lens of the C.M. Bell Studio, we can get to know the people in Washington, D.C. face-to-face.  In browsing the recently digitized collection of over 25,000 glass plate negatives, I was caught by bemused expressions and elaborate outfits, by dignified poses and candid children’s smiles. Meet some of the faces of late 19th and early 20th century Washington, D.C. in a selection of photos from the C.M. Bell Studio below. At the bottom of this post, learn more about the C.M. Bell Studio and embark on your own exploration of the portraits.

Johnson, Rev. J.A. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1901 and December 1903]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.12424

Johnson, Rev. J.A. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1901 and December 1903]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.12424

Ross, J.C. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between 1873 and ca. 1916]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.25815

Ross, J.C. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between 1873 and ca. 1916]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.25815

Brown, M. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.11154

Brown, M. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.11154

Lewis, Mrs. E.B. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1901 and December 1903]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.13407

Lewis, Mrs. E.B. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1901 and December 1903]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.13407

Flagg, Mrs. C.A. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.11893

Flagg, Mrs. C.A. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.11893

[Reese], Mrs. M.F. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between December 1903 and March 1905]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.17097

[Reese], Mrs. M.F. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between December 1903 and March 1905]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.17097

White, J.R. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.10767

White, J.R. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.10767

Simpson, A.L. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between December 1903 and March 1905]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.17423

Simpson, A.L. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between December 1903 and March 1905]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.17423

Fernald, L. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1901 and December 1903]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.14339

Fernald, L. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1901 and December 1903]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.14339

Sprinkle, J.F. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between December 1903 and March 1905]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.17120

Sprinkle, J.F. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between December 1903 and March 1905]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.17120

Herbert, B.F. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between December 1903 and March 1905]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.18374

Herbert, B.F. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between December 1903 and March 1905]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.18374

 

Walter, Mrs. C. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1901 and December 1903]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.14454

Walter, Mrs. C. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1901 and December 1903]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.14454

Hanger, J.E. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1901 and December 1903]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.14164

Hanger, J.E. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1901 and December 1903]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.14164

Two Moons & Am. Horse. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between 1873 and 1890]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.01272

Two Moons & Am. Horse. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between 1873 and 1890]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.01272

Little dog and wife and child. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between January 1891 and January 1894]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.04937

Little dog and wife and child. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between Jan. 1891 and Jan. 1894]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.04937

Heffner, Mrs. T.M. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.07065

Heffner, Mrs. T.M. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.07065

Barber, Bertha. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.08596

Barber, Bertha. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.08596

Minetree, Miss Mattie. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between January 1891 and January 1894]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.03404

Minetree, Miss Mattie. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between January 1891 and January 1894]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.03404

Wright, Mrs. T.F. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.10760

Wright, Mrs. T.F. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.10760

E.B. Williams. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between January 1891 and January 1894]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.02461

E.B. Williams. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between January 1891 and January 1894]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.02461

 

Marmion dog. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.05658

Marmion dog. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.05658

Dick, Mrs. I.V. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.11898

Dick, Mrs. I.V. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.11898

Geo. B. Miles. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between January 1891 and January 1894]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.02297

Geo. B. Miles. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between January 1891 and January 1894]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.02297

Bliss children. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between January 1891 and January 1894]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.02412

Bliss children. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between January 1891 and January 1894]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.02412

Holly, Rev. J.S. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.11660

Holly, Rev. J.S. Photo by C.M. Bell, [between February 1894 and February 1901]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.11660

C.M. Bell. Photo by C.M.Bell (Firm), [between 1873 and 1893]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.23682

C.M. Bell. Photo by C.M.Bell (Firm), [between 1873 and 1893]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bellcm.23682

Learn More:

  • Enjoy your own exploration of the photos of the C. M. Bell Studio Collection in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. The original caption information from the studio was very minimal, with usually just the name of the person who ordered the photographs listed. This means children are often under a parent’s name, for example, and initials are often used in place of full names. Browsing the collection or searching by last name are the most effective ways to explore the portraits.
  • Read a collection overview of the C.M. Bell Studio Collection to learn more about the  history and scope of the collection, as well as information about Mr. Bell himself, pictured at right.

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Sarah Resta
    April 27, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    This is incredible. Thank you for sharing

  2. Janelle Gilson
    May 1, 2017 at 6:55 pm

    Such great photographs! I would love to somehow incorporate them into NHD! Any suggestions?! I love that whether black or white or Indian, they all looked so real, like they could be your neighbor…

  3. Carl Fleischhauer
    May 3, 2017 at 8:08 am

    Wonderful and varied studio portraits. We owe the company many thanks not only for the pictures but also for attaching the sitters’ names to the negatives! I followed the link to the collection overview–also VERY interesting–and learned that C.M. stands for Charles Milton, and about the Bureau of American Ethnology activities. (BTW: The Library’s American Folklife Center holds many BAE cylinder-format sound recordings of American Indian music.) The remaining mystery? Bell’s successor was I.M. Boyce but it looks like no one has run down what the I. and M. stand for! Always more to do . . . .

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.