This image comes from the collection my friend Bert gave me. There is no information given other than what is on the back by the photo studio.

Either this was a very precocious child or it's an actor. I say "it" because I'm just not sure if it is a boy or girl. I'm leaning towards girl, but then again the clothing seems a bit theatrical, as does the hair which is wild looking for the time.

I'm dating this photo at around the late 1870s because of the information I've found about the photographer, B. F. Howland.

Benjamin Franklin Howland was born on March 1, 1828 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He died in Oakland, California on August 6, 1900. During this span of years he appears to have led an interesting life, crisscrossing the country numerous times. Married twice, his first wife died shortly after their marriage in Massachusetts in 1854. He married his second wife on December 10, 1865 in California. They had eight children of which four were still alive upon Howland's death.

As a child he went on adventurous sailing voyages with his father, a captain of whalers and merchant ships. He worked as an engraver, did a bit of mining, running mule trains, and of course photography studios on both sides of the country.

Read the bio information below which is from the book Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865.

Here is an ad for his studio in Syracuse, New York which he ran from around 1857 to 1864.

(SOURCE: Fulton History)

By 1865 he was back in California. He had previously gone to California in 1851. Because of all his moving you will find portraits he took in various collections all over the country with different addresses for various studios.

Fascinating to think of this adventurous man taking the portrait of this child who looks to be a bit of a wild one.

Here are two other photos taken by Howland: here and here.

We'll never know the story about this child. And so it goes for another Sepia Saturday post.


  1. fascinating outfit!Glad we're out of that creepy scrapbook.

  2. What a strange and curious photo. Sad, we can never know the mystery of this child with the unruly hair. I tend to think this is a girl as well, but what parent or guardian would bring their child to a portriat sitting in such a state? Great job providing background on the photographer too.

  3. Love it! What an interesting bit of info that you found on the photographer. Thanks for posting this!

  4. I find this photograph compelling. Like you, I can't tell whether its a boy of a girl. I think you're right that it's a theatrical costume of some sort. The Victorians were very fond of dressing-up and acting out scenes and tableaus of various kinds. Fascinating post.

  5. I like to imagine what the interaction was between the child and Howland. Was the child difficult? Or did Howland engage the child with stories of whaling ships and travel? I'd like to know the moments they were together.

  6. I think it's a girl but if it's a boy it's a photograph taken to celebrate his breeching, when he was taken out of skirts and given pants to wear. You'll find quite a few old CDVs of three year old boys in skirts. From what I understand, the breeching ceremony, such as it was, involved a trip to the photographer's studio where the 'before' photo was taken with him in skirts and the 'after' taken of him in pants.
    Thank for the link to Fulton History. I never knew that site existed

  7. Thanks for the information about breeching. I never knew there was a whole tradition built around this. Odd, very odd.

  8. could it have been one of the photographers own children?

  9. A wonderful picture (my vote goes for a girl as well) and yet again we have the added bonus of such fascinating information. I remain convinced that there is a fascinating book (not a biographical dictionary) to be written about all those early photographers who were riding the waves of new technology 130 years ago.

  10. There's nothing to indicate any identity for the child so we could imagine it's the photographer's daughter/son.
    The identity is lost to time, but it's nice their image has survived.

    Alan, you're right. It would be fascinating to have a book about all of these photographers. I'm even thrilled when I find anything online in something Google has scanned.

  11. I suggest this is a girl. The child looks to be about seven years old, much older than boys wore skirts. The oldest breeching I have heard of was five. Boys hair was also generally kept cut short even in infancy and toddler days. The dress is fairly well made and there is also the interesting edging or decoration on the legs above the shoe. It looks a lot like my daughters footless legging lol.

  12. Good heavens. It’s another fringe back chair, partially covered by that drape.

    I lean toward it being a girl. It looks like the gob of naturally curly hair has been gathered to the back. But there is no bow showing which is usually the tell-tale detail.

    There are no ear-bobs or other jewelry except a bead necklace with a pendant and it appears to be a rather masculine Greek cross. It’s probably an heirloom that needed to be included for the record.

    But the garb seems a bit too frilly even for that period. I still think it is a girl. I also agree with Who were they? The child is too old to be a boy in smocks. This one is at least seven. And boy’s hair was generally kept quite short.

    Excellent research.

  13. Krisitn has a point as this could very well be one of his own kids. what sex were they? male, female, or a mix? i love the first "here" pic. great post on a man as fascinating as his subjects.
    well done!!

  14. My take is the child stands like a girl, but oh that face screams BOY! Don't you think....or maybe just why am I wearing this outfit! The hair is oh so wild really, but it would be wonderful to know the real meaning behind it all...great job on supplying the info on the artist....he must have had an amazing career!

  15. I still can't decide one way or the other, boy or girl. I could see it going either way. I'm still thinking a theatrical child. The outfit has a bit of an Indian look to it. The unusual and eccentric have always had a place in San Francisco. I'm thinking specifically of Emperor Norton, Emperor of the United States. So I child prone to a vivid imagination would have been barely a blip on the radar, even though radar didn't exist. I'm imagining a family of some wealth that catered to this child's whims.

  16. Haven't I seen this child in some movie where she kicks another child in the shins and steals his ball? Maybe not, but I could sure picture it.

  17. Oh I can see this kid stealing someone's toys. Yup, I can imagine that.

  18. Anonymous9/06/2014

    I see what all the comments say about the breeching age. That much I was unaware of until now. But I have seen so many boys of this period who looked like that. My first guess is this child would be a boy. ~Jahn Kefa (Berkshire County, Massachusetts)