Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Note About the Picture of a Young Rebecca Hill Pettit

Yesterday the post from Mary Isabell Pettit's diary included a picture sent by Pettit cousin Sharon Wilbur that was identified as Rebecca Hill Pettit and included an unidentified child. 

I had never seen the picture before and it is always a pleasure to see new photographs, especially when the only idea you have of a person is at a certain age, which is particularly the case for Rebecca Pettit, since all the pictures I'd seen show her at a distinguished middle age:

The facial features are very alike on the portraits, so I will assume that the family identification of the younger photo as Rebecca Pettit is correct.

And, for purposes of identification, the person who scanned the photograph was very kind to include the photographer's mark.

Savage & Ottinger was a Utah business run by two notable Utah artists, photographer Charles R. Savage (1832-1909) and artist George M. Ottinger (1833-1917).

This article from the American Phrenological Journal, New York, May 1868, mentions a number of their business concerns but most particularly the line of business we are interested in:
Besides supplying the "Saints" and the "Gentiles" with the best literature of the Old World and the New, they produce good pictures—we may safely say some of the best we have ever seen. Portraits of the "saints" and "sinners"—are not all sinners?—"we reckon"—Indians, pictures of trees, mountains, water-falls—real river waterfalls, not the sort we see in the opera or on Broadway—and some of the most sublime scenery in the world.
The gallery and bookstore, between the post office and Council House in downtown Salt Lake City, opened in December 1863. The partnership lasted until 1872.

It is quite likely, therefore, that the picture of Rebecca was taken between 1863 and 1872, which would put her between the age of 18 and 27.

Rebecca married Edwin Pettit in October 1864, so the picture was probably taken after this date since her only sister, Hannah Hood Hill, was three years older and married to Miles Park Romney by the time the photograph studio opened, and since the child in the photo is not a sister, she is more likely to be a stepdaughter or daughter.

There are two likely possibilities. First, the child in the photo could be Rebecca's stepdaughter Alice Maria Pettit, who was three years old when Rebecca married Edwin, and was eleven years old when Savage and Ottinger ended their partnership.

Mary Pettit Green

Second, the child could be Rebecca's oldest daughter Mary Isabell, the diary writer. She was born in 1866 and would have been six years old when the Savage and Ottinger partnership ended. Edwin and Rebecca had three other children during this time period. Clara Anna Hill Pettit was born in 1868 but died at the age of 16 months in 1869. Emeline was born in 1870 and although she was just barely the right age to show up in the image if it was taken as late as 1872, probably would have been photographed together with her older sister Mary. Edwin Pettit, Jr., was born in 1872.

The photograph could be more closely dated by an expert in Utah photography, but without having that done, the choices are that this is a photograph of Rebecca and Alice, or that this is a photograph of Rebecca and Mary.

My best guess is that this picture was taken after Clara died, and shows Rebecca and Mary. But it could also be taken shortly after her marriage and be a picture of Rebecca with Alice. What's your best guess? Anyone know for sure?

For more information on the photographers, see Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn. Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2000.

1 comment:

  1. I think it would be Mary because of the part in the hair and the hairline. I think the part is more than style. Both photos show a distinct part on each woman.
    love this photo!