The number of women who became professional photographers in the late 19th century skyrocketed. There were no schools or licenses for this new technology. Like men, women learned photography through trial and error and mostly at home. The advent of commercially available glass plate negatives and printing papers accelerated the influx of women into photography.

The practice of photography fit well with women’s lives. One photography handbook published in 1911 encouraged women to photograph their families: “Who so well fitted as they, in patience and opportunity, to picture that supremely interesting panorama of life of which the house is a theater?”

Kodak Magazine Advertisement, 1911
American Amateur Photography Magazine, October 1894

Indeed, domestic scenes, whether by women or men, made up most of the images in amateur photography publications.

The skills women learned at home easily translated into the marketplace. Even the social expectations for women matched the qualities that made a good portraitist, the ability to make sitters feel welcome and put them at ease.

Ada St. John Betts

Ada St. John Betts was the daughter of Allen and Ann Betts. She never married and lived with her parents and then with her sister in Norwalk. Betts was listed as an artist in the Norwalk directory, but glass plate negatives left in her estate show that she was also an avid amateur photographer. At some point she worked with photographer Charles Blackman.