Thursday, February 28, 2013

Abigail "Abbie" Cardozo: An Independent Spirit

Abigail E. Cardozo
Confidence, exceptional fortitude, and "true grit" were vital for a woman to successfully create and maintain a business during the late 1800s in America, especially in the west. By the turn of the century most towns in California, large and small, had at least one photographic studio and competition was intense. While men were expected to have some type of trade or professional occupation, women's entrepreneurial advancement was generally not approved.
Abbie Cardozo exemplifies the character that was needed to prevail at a pre-suffrage period in which husbands had license to control women's lives to a degree that is difficult to understand in our era.

Born in Grizzly Bluff, about three hundred miles north of San Francisco, Cardozo was the sixth of nine children. With so many mouths to feed, in 1878, at fourteen years old, Cardozo was forced into marriage with Oscar L. Chapman, a man who she did not know and was nearly her father's age. She bore a number of children, but only three survived infancy. By 1889, she left her husband, charging him with mental cruelty, but retained custody of their three daughters: Della, Bella, and Stella. Their separation was viewed locally as  "outrageous," but Cardozo was apparently undaunted by the societal criticism. [1]

A single mother with three daughters to support, twenty-five year-old Cardozo found part-time employment in a local photography studio. In 1894, when her divorce became final, she married again to a "charming and fun" local storekeeper who was considered the town "loafer." [2] By 1897, Cardozo entered into a partnership with George Crippen in Ferndale, California, a town that billed itself as the "furthest west incorporated community in America." The goal of the partnership was to create a line of stylistic photographic portraits that were as good quality as the best anywhere. Within a few months, however, the partnership dissolved and Cardozo and Crippen became business rivals.

Abigail E. Cardozo
Portrait of Loie Doe
ca. 1900
Silver print
7 3/4 x 5 1/2 inches
Cardozo showed a particular flair for portraits with her stylish poses and settings, especially when her subjects were women. She moved beyond the standard frontal, stilted poses that were common to the period and employed a three quarter facial view with her subjects looking away from the lens. Building on her artistic skills, she traveled to San Francisco to learn the latest hairstyling techniques and was able to offer "free hairdressing with each studio sitting." In addition, she painted her own gallery backdrops, adding props such as chairs, wall drapes, and banisters to enhance her compositions.

Abigail E. Cardozo
Studio Portrait
ca. 1900
Silver print
4 x 6 inches
Abbie's portrait business began while the cabinet card was still popular for studio photography. The cabinet card measured approximately 4 by 6 inches and was the perfect size photograph of its day. Cabinet cards became the standard for photographic portraits in 1870, and Cabi experienced their peak in popularity in the 1880s and were still being produced in the United States until the early 1900s. Cabinet cards frequently had artistic logos and information on the bottom or the reverse of the card which advertised the photographer or the photography studio’s services. [3] Cardozo, however, took great pride in introducing new lines of innovative mounts and photographic styles to her clients. This modernization featured ovals and square images on a wide variety of mounts, and was a great departure from traditional style portraiture. She introduced photo folders about 1902.[4]

In 1903, she again began divorce proceedings from her second husband, charging him with failure to provide for reasons of "idleness, profligacy, willful desertion, adultery, and extreme cruelty." Once again, the court ruled in her favor. By 1910, Cardozo retired from photography and remarried, for the third time, to Andrew Hayes, an inspector fro the City of Oakland where she concentrated on ceraminc painting, operating her own kiln at her home.

In 1925, Cardozo developed Parkinson's disease which affected her ability to paint. She retuned to Ferndale, where she remained until her death in 1937. [5]
1. Ressler, Susan R. ed., Women Artists of the American West, (North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2003). 207
2. Palmquist, Peter E., Shadowcatchers: A Directory of Women in California Photography 1900-1920, (Arcata, California: Peter Palmquist), 1991.
3. The Cabinet Card Gallery, Viewing History, Culture, and Personalities through Cabinet Card Images. (accessed February 28, 2013).
4. Palmquist, Shadowcatchers.
5. Ibid.

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