A Life of Honor and Piety: Mary Latrobe Onderdonk

This cabinet card portrait, inscribed “Mrs. Onderdonk,” was taken at Richard Walzl’s (1843-1899) Baltimore studio, located at 46 N. Charles Street from 1873 to 1881 (Kelbaugh, Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900).

The cherub and camera motif on the reverse was popular on studio photograph advertising ca. 1866-1874.

Mrs. Onderdonk wears a large artificial hairpiece, a fashion of the 1850s that persisted through the 1870s. The hairpiece, made of human hair, is worn as a braided coronet with two long “lovelocks.”

I was able to confirm the identify of the sitter by comparing the portrait to two group photographs in which she appears, taken at the Saint James School near Hagerstown, an institution with which she was closely associated for 47 years.

Mrs. Mary Onderdonk, born Mary Elizabeth Latrobe, was christened at Christ Episcopal Church, Chase and St. Paul streets, Baltimore, on 15 March 1837.

Born in Salem, New Jersey, she was the second of five children and the first daughter of civil engineer Benjamin Henry Latrobe Jr. (1806-1878) and Maria Eleanor “Ellen” Hazlehurst Latrobe (1807-1872).

In 1868 or 1869, she married a widowed teacher with two teen-aged sons, Henry Onderdonk (1822-1895). Onderdonk, formerly head of the Maryland Agricultural College, was about to take on the rebuilding, both literal and figurative, of the College of Saint James near Hagerstown, in Washington County, Maryland.

Mary would be his help-meet.

Founded by the Episcopal Church in 1842 as Saint James Hall on part of the General Samuel Ringgold estate,  Fountain Rock, the school had been abandoned in 1864, after General Jubal Early’s forces occupied the grounds and some of the buildings and arrested the school’s head, Dr. Kerfoot.

Onderdonk reopened the old college as a boys’ preparatory institution, and through his and Mary’s unrelenting labors, and that of their son Adrian,  today it endures as the thriving Saint James School.

In June 1885, the Hagerstown Herald and Torchlight reported on Onderdonk’s commencement address, in which he recalled the early days after their arrival, when “the buildings [were] so ruined and dilapiated as to be uninhabitable.”

The new Mrs. Onderdonk took on the task of helping her husband revive and run the school and care for the boys. The nearest town, Williamsport, was five miles away, and the school was almost nine miles from Hagerstown.  With little financial support forthcoming from the school’s trustees, the Onderdonks used $5,000 of their own money on the effort.

For a woman brought up in a well-to-do household in Baltimore, rebuilding must have meant hard physical labor in less-than-ideal conditions, including everything from cooking, cleaning, laundry and sewing to nursing sick students.

By 1877, when the Illustrated Atlas of Washington County was published, the school was well established as an excellent educational institution, and worthy of illustration as one of the highlights of the area.

Mary’s hard work, determination and organizational skills were surely an unacknowledged part of this success.

But her work did not stop at the edge of the school grounds. As wife of a prominent county citizen, she was expected to take part in the larger life of the county and the local Epsicopal church.

Hagerstown papers mention Mary Onderdonk as a leader of the Dorcas Society, which sewed for the poor and indigent, and as an active member of the board of the Washington County Orphans’ Home.

She bore her husband two sons, Latrobe Onderdonk (1872-1883), and Adrian Holmes Onderdonk (1877-1956), who became the revered long-time headmaster of the school in 1903.

Omitting mention of Mary’s work as her husband’s partner in the school’s revival, her obituary in the Hagerstown Daily Mail notes the stock feminine qualities  associated with the good Victorian woman: her regular attendance at chapel, her “noble and upright character” and “lovable and kindly disposition.”

Mary (1836-1916 and Henry Onderdonk (1822-1895) are buried in Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery. Each year the school honors a student–and remembers Mary Onderdonk–with the Mary Latrobe Onderdonk Memorial Prize for Sound School Citizenship.

Additional Sources:

Cartes de Visite in Nineteenth Century Photography, William C. Darrah (Gettysburg, Pa.: W.C. Darrah, 1981)

Saint James School: One Hundred Twenty-Fifth Anniversary (Hagerstown: Saint James School, 1967)

History of Western Maryland, vol. 1, John Thomas Scharf (Philadelphia, Pa.: L. H. Everts, 1882)

Dressed for the Photographer, Joan Severa (Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 1995)

Mary Onderdonk’s obituary provided courtesy of the Washington County Free Library

Dentists I Have Not Known: Dr. Leonidas Wilson Davis

Based on records where his name appears, he preferred to be known as L. Wilson Davis (1862-1947), but Leonidas was his full first name.

Thanks to the thorough work of family historian and cemetery researcher Glenn Wallace, I was able to find Dr. Leonidas Wilson Davis’ grave in Monocacy Cemetery, Beallsville, Montgomery County, Md., and from there, his family history unfolded.

Dr. Davis was the son of Frederick County, Maryland farmer Isaac Howard Davis (1818-1901) and Catherine (Miles) Davis (1822-1897).

L. Wilson Davis was a member of the University of Maryland Dental Department class of 1888, along with Frank Ryland Steel. He set up practice in Baltimore, and married Mary Harrison Griffith, daughter of merchant and Civil War veteran Francis Moore Griffith (1831-1908) and Elizabeth (Dickerson) Griffith of Beallsville, Montgomery County, Md.

Dr. Davis was interested in what became known as orthodontia, as well as the care of teeth as a public health concern. In 1900, he was part of a committee that authored a proposal for a pilot project for the examination of children’s teeth in Maryland schools, and for the education of children in dental hygiene.

Dr. Davis’ brother, Isaac Howard Davis Jr. (1859-1918), also became a dentist as well as an MD. Isaac Davis was part of the University of Maryland Department of Dentistry’s first graduating class in 1884, and was a professor of dentistry at the University of Maryland at the same time as Dr. John C. Uhler and Dr. James H. Harris, succeeding Dr. Harris as professor of Operative and Clinical Dentistry, a position he still held at the time of his death.

According to Ross Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900, Richard Walzl’s studios, where Dr. L. Wilson Harris had his portrait taken, were located at the addresses indicated on the bottom of the cabinet card ca. 1887-1893. This photograph of young Dr. Davis may well have been taken on the occasion of his graduation from dental school in 1888.

From Walzl’s Imperial Portrait Studio: William Henry Gaither

This cabinet card photograph of a young William Henry Gaither (1881-1920) is another from an album owned by Baltimorean Mrs. Elizabeth Gaither Summers.

Identified as “Will Gaither,” this image was probably taken at one of Richard Walzl’s studios about 1889–the only year Walzl used this combination of addresses on his photographs. The use of rustic props and backgrounds marks the height of 1880s style for studio portraits. Beveled, gilt-edged mounts were just beginning to be introduced.  Will is dressed in a tweed Norfolk suit, a popular style for boys from the 1860s on.

Will Gaither was likely Elizabeth Gaither’s nephew, the son of her brother John W. Gaither. John, a steamboat pilot and lighthouse-keeper, married Miss Marie Horner about 1880, and Will was their first-born of three.

William worked as a stevedore on the docks, but suffered from epileptic seizures. Perhaps epilepsy caused his death at the age of 39.

All photographs from the Elizabeth J. Gaither Summers album were acquired on ebay from jbatro (johnscollectibles@att.net).

Richard Walzl Stereoview of the Concordia Building

Richard Walzl’s stereoview of the Concordia Buildings attests to the commercial success and pride in cultured pursuits of Baltimore’s German-speaking community.

The hall was the center of Baltimore German cultural and social activity.  Many of the prosperous German Jewish merchants who moved to the newly fashionable Eutaw Place in the 1880s were members of the Concordia Society. The Concordia was  “next to the Germania [Club] in social importance,” the Germania being the exclusive resort of the wealthiest German merchants of the city (Bierne, The Amiable Baltimoreans, 204-205)

Designed by German-born architect  Adolf Kluss, It was built on the southwest corner of Eutaw and Redwood (formerly German) streets by the Concordia German Association and opened for the first time in September 1865. The structure was destroyed by fire on June 10th 1891 (Official History of the Fire Department of the City of Baltimore, 1898)

The Stranger in Baltimore, an 1866 guide book, relates that the Concordia Building “is finished in the latest style, with every appointment of a club, and also contains a gorgeous theater, with an immense stage.” The Concordia included a subscription lending library of 3,500 volumes, as well as journals and newspapers in both German and English.

Scharf says that in February 1868 Charles Dickens “gave a course of readings, in the saloon of this building, which were largely attended” (695).

“A near riot ensued,” says Carleton Jones in Lost Baltimore Landmarks, “when Lincoln conspirator John Surratt attempted to present a program here on his return from Rome after the war” (47).

Richard Walzl, the well-known photographer, publisher, and purveyor of photographic supplies at 103 West Baltimore Street, seems to have favored turquoise for his stereoview mounts. This view is part of a series called “Baltimore and Vicinity” that included 45 images of important Baltimore structures, from the Battle Monument to the City Jail. Walzl likely published this view before 1876.

View another image of the Concordia Building by William M. Chase.

Dentists I Have Not Known: John Willis White Lyle

Occasionally I have the good fortune to find a photograph that is so well-identified that I can trace something of the history of the sitter.

On the back of this Richard Walzl cabinet card photograph is written “Uncle Jno. Willie White Lyle-Picture made first year in Baltimore Dental College, Baltimore, Md., 1893.”

Several family historians on Ancestry.com have traced this gentleman’s roots and descendants in census and other records.

John W. W. Lyle (1869-1948) was born in Scott County, Mississippi to wealthy Georgia-born farmer Matthew Lyle (1818-1890) who had served in the Confederate Army with the 5th Mississippi Infantry.

John Lyle received his DDS from the storied Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in March 1895.

After dental training in Baltimore, John returned to his home state and settled in the town of Good Hope, and then Lena, Leake County, with his wife, Ouda White Lyle, to practice dentistry and to farm on Cash Road. They had three children: John Matthew Lyle, Maggie, and Gilbert G. Lyle  (1904-1999).

John W. W. Lyle is buried in Cash Cemetery, Scott County, Mississippi, along with several other family members.

The photographer has improved upon the old style of vignetted busts by using  a soft, cloud-like background that adds texture without distracting from the subject.

A. L. Rogers Trade Card

Albert L. Rogers (1853-1934) had a studio at 68 Lexington Street ca. 1882-1885. At 4″ by 2-1/2″, this trade card suggests a move toward the modern business card.

With its touches of gilt and delicate script address, Rogers’ card strives for elegance. Richard Walzl (see previous post), by contrast, chose a brightly colored card in a larger format, designed to catch the eye.

Rogers was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania in October 1853. According to Biographical Annals of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, Rogers learned photography at the age of 16 in his older brother Samuel G. Rogers’ Waynesburg, Pennsylvania studio.

According to the Annals sketch, Albert made a specialty of retouching, and worked in this and other capacities for Kuhn & Cummins and then Richard Walzl in Baltimore.

Rogers went into business for himself in  Baltimore in 1880.

In 1891, Albert bought Norval Busey’s studio at at 112 North Charles Street. By 1900, he and his wife, fellow photographer Elizabeth E. Jonas Rogers, had relocated to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. I found a ca. 1890s cabinet photograph by Rogers marked Carlisle and Chambersburg, and an 1889 cabinet card from Westminster, Maryland; he is also said to have had a studio in Hagerstown, Maryland for a time.

Albert and Samuel weren’t the only family members to go into the photography business. In all,  I have found evidence that three other siblings did the same: John H.(Waynesburg, Green Co., Pa.),  Thomas Wilson Rogers (Carmichaels, Green Co., Pa.), and Jessie Addison Rogers (Greensburg, Decatur Co., Indiana).

Elizabeth died in 1917, and Albert remarried a woman several decades younger, Louise McCann Rogers. They had two daughters, Marie and Helen.

He gave up the photography business to grow fruit trees between 1910 and 1920 to devote himself fully to his orchards.

Rogers and his two wives are buried in Norland Cemetery, Chambersburg, Franklin County, Pa. (Thanks go to Jim Houpt of the Franklin County Genweb for information about the deaths and burials of the Rogers.)

The Greene County Historical Society has a large digitized collection of photographs, many bearing the Rogers name.

Tweet Tweet, Mr. Walzl

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Baltimore photographer, publisher and entrepreneur Richard Walzl gave away this card when he moved his studio from  46 N. Charles Street to 405 W. Baltimore Street ca. 1881-1882. To get the word out, Walzl chose  a stock card featuring a colorful bird singing in a rose bush. This card is one of only two Baltimore photographers’ trade cards I have found.

Richard Walzl’s Photographic Emporium

This illustration from Richard Walzl’s journal The Photographer’s Friend, October 1872 depicts Walzl’s establishment at 46 North Charles Street in Baltimore.

Richard Edmund Walzl (1843-1899), a German immigrant, is believed to have opened his first photographic gallery in Baltimore in 1862 and moved to this location in 1872.

Walzl was an energetic entrepreneur. He studied photography under Robert Vinton Lansdale and William H. Weaver. Walzl was not content to sell photographs, however. He sold photographic supplies, published journals and books on photography, and involved himself in Baltimore’s public affairs.