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Gerhard Sisters Collection

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Identifier: P0257

Title: Gerhard Sisters Collection


The Gerhard Sisters were the first women photographers to own and operate a studio in St. Louis. Emme, Mamie, and Adelaide Gerhard were born in Mascoutah, Illinois and St. Louis to German immigrants Peter and Louisa Gerhards (the family later dropped the “s” and changed the name to Gerhard). The sisters began studying photography in 1893 under F.W. Guerin, a famous St. Louis photographer. In 1902 or 1903, the sisters bought Guerin’s studio when he retired to California and went into business.

They made a name for themselves doing what they called “Character Pictures.” They photographed their subjects in a specially built studio that utilized natural light and had a homey setting in order to put people at their ease, allowing their natural qualities and characteristics to shine through. The also tried to incorporate Pictorialist fine art photography techniques including blurred backgrounds and meditative poses into their work. They had several successful exhibits in art photography competitions and shows.

What the Gerhard Sisters are most famous for is their Aboriginal Portfolio. During the 1904 World’s Fair, the director of the Field Museum commissioned the Gerhard’s to photograph the various individuals in the ethnographic displays at the Fair. They were given special permission by the fair organizers to photograph the participants in their studios rather than on the fair site. The resulting portraits were a blend of Character Portraits and a more traditional aboriginal documentary style.

The Gerhard Sisters operated two studios for most of their partnership. One studio at 1114 Salisbury Street in north St. Louis was operated by Adelaide and her husband Julius Schilling, and the specially built studio at 3622 Olive Street was run (more famously) by Emme and Mamie. In 1926, Emme and Mamie closed the Olive Street Studio and went their separate ways. All three sisters operated separate studios until the 1930s. Emme retired in 1936 and left St. Louis, Mamie operated her studio until her death in 1956, and Adelaide operated her studio into the 1940s.

These photograph albums were compiled by the Gerhard Sisters and show people involved with support efforts for World War I. One album contains portraits of Four Minute Men, a group of volunteers who were part of the Committee on Public Information's method of soliciting support for the war. The Four Minute Men volunteers gave brief speeches wherever they could get an audience in places like movie theaters, churches, and grange halls. The Gerhard Sisters Collection contains mounted photographs from the 1904 World's Fair and five topic-specific portrait photograph albums compiled by the sisters.

A set of about 84 large mounted prints show "Aborigines", different ethnic groups represented at 1904 World's Fair. Subjects include: LPE; children; Native Americans; Africans; Japanese; Chinese; Philippinos; Eskimo; Bedouins; Ainus; Igorrotes; Igorots; Bogobos; (more). The album titled "Officers Missouri Home Guards, Portraits by Gerhard Sisters" contains about 68 portraits of officers from World War I with a typed name index inside the front cover. Subjects include: Williard Bartlett; Samuel Goddard; John Hurley; Frank W. Blinn; Cyril Saunders; Roy A. Campbell; Thomas E. Hill; Charles E. Musick; Charles P. Bland; Edward Simmons Lewis; (more).

The album titled "American Red Cross, Portraits by Gerhard Sisters" contains about 350 portraits with a typed index in the front cover. Subjects include: George W. Simmons; Alfred Fairbank; John H. Holliday; women in nursing uniforms; women in military-style Red Cross uniforms; Sidney Brown; Clara A. Brown; Edna Prosser; Sophie Heckinger; Cora A. Bates; Gertrude Gavin; Harry F. Knight; Henry W. Kiel; Alfred Shapleigh; Philo Stevenson; Lillie R. Ernst; Jessie Langsdorf; Paul A. Schlafly; (more).

Rights: UND


Dates: ca. 1904 - ca. 1918

Type(s): Photographs

Maker/Creator: Gerhard Sisters



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