Pioneer female photographer Catharine Weed Barnes was born to William and Emily Weed Barnes on January 10, 1851 in Albany, New York. After completing her academic studies in Albany, she was accepted at the elite Vassar College, but illness forced her to leave before graduation. When her father was named to the International Statistical Congress delegation in St. Petersburg, Miss Barnes traveled with her parents to Russia, and the striking landscape sparked her interest in photography, which she pursued as a vocation in 1886. After the death of her mother in 1889, Miss Barnes assumed household responsibilities for her father in Albany, but spent whatever leisure time she had taking photographs and writing articles on photography. She became an editor of American Amateur Photographer in the spring of 1890, and became an active member of several predominantly male photographic organizations, including the National Photographers' Association of America, Society of Amateur Photographers of New York, the New York Camera Club, and was named an honorary member of the Brooklyn Academy of Photography and the Chicago Camera Club.
By 1891, Catharine Weed Barnes had earned a reputation in New York as "the best known woman amateur in photography on this side of the Atlantic." She was the first female to compete against men in photographic contests, and after leaving her editorial post at American Amateur Photographer (and was replaced by an up-and-coming photographer named Alfred Stieglitz), she traveled to Europe to address the Photographic Convention of the United Kingdom in Edinburgh, Scotland. While traveling in London, she met and married H. Snowden Ward, a well-known editor of photography journals. Marriage, however, did not end her professional endeavors. She joined the editorial staff of the periodical Photogram and her photographs were featured in the illustrated Shakespeare's Town and Times.
As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Catharine Weed Barnes Ward had established herself as a tireless champion of women photographers. Photography had been long regarded as an exclusive 'men only' profession, and some male society and club members threatened to resign if women were granted admittance. Mrs. Ward fired back that these societies should offer women "a fair field and no favor," and that photography should ultimately be judged by the quality of the work and not the gender of the photographer. In 1899, she and her husband toured the United States with a lantern slideshow to promote their text, The Real Dickens-Land, which featured photographs of Dickens' home at Gads Hill as well as the regions immortalized in his novels. She slpent her later years making lantern slides and conducting lectures on the necessary equipment, light exposure, and developer. Catharine Weed Barnes Ward died in Hadlow, England on July 31, 1913 at the age of 62. Though largely forgotten today, her efforts made it possible for female pioneer photographers like Gertrude Kasebier to take their rightful place alongside their male counterparts.
1892 The American Annual of Photography, Vol. VI (New York: Scovill Manufacturing Company), pp. 186-188.
2010 Charles Dicken's American Audience (Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books), p. 42.
1988 The Positive Image: Women Photographers in Turn-Of-The-Century America (Albany: State University of New York Press), pp. 44-45.
1999 Women and Nature: Saving the "Wild" West (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press), p. 86.
1893 A Woman of the Century (Buffalo: Charles Wells Moulton), pp. 54-55.
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