Women’s photography and the American Civil War: The case of Elizabeth Beachbard, ambrotypist

Oldfield, Pippa ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5616-3824 (2021) Women’s photography and the American Civil War: The case of Elizabeth Beachbard, ambrotypist. History of Photography. ISSN 2150-7295


Despite recent feminist scholarship on women’s roles in the American Civil War (1861–65), their photographic participation remains poorly understood. As a result, women’s wartime entrepreneurialism has not been recognised, and neither has their agency in shaping the image economy and visual history of a nation-defining conflict. This article presents the first dedicated research on Elizabeth Beachbard, an elusive figure who ran an ambrotype portrait business in Louisiana during the conflict. This article charts her trajectory from downtown New Orleans to a military camp in rural Louisiana where she photographed soldiers during the summer of 1861 until her death only months later. I consider the gendered constraints on women’s photography of the epoch and the methodological challenges for researching female photographers, examining the historical context for women’s entrepreneurialism and the circumstances that led to Beachbard’s business model. As well as analysing her practice as a female operator in a military camp, this article presents new evidence for an ambrotype hitherto unattributed to Beachbard, which constitutes only the third extant example of her work. I contend that Beachbard should be seen as a pioneering figure in the history of women’s photography, and might be considered America’s first identifiable female photographer of war.

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