Bertha Maude Horack was born to Czech immigrants Frank J. and Katharine Mosnat Horack in Belle Plaine, Iowa on February 12, 1871. When she was eight, she moved with her family to Iowa City, where she received the finest academic education her parents could provide for their only daughter. A student of naturalist Bohumil Shimek, she became a talented sketch artist, and soon her stories and her plant drawings were being featured in local periodicals. After receiving a camera from her parents as a high school graduation gift, Miss Horack's attention shifted from illustrations to photography. An early proponent of dry plate photography, she regarded a camera as an important historical tool for documenting cultural traditions and daily lives. Miss Horack has the distinction of being the first 'outsider' allowed to photograph the Amanas, seven seven utopian communities settled by German expatriates who had been persecuted in their native land for their radical Lutheran beliefs known as the New Spiritual Economy. In less than a year, the young woman took more than 100 photographs of a way of life that was rapidly disappearing within an increasingly industrialized landscape.
While studying botany at the State University of Iowa (now known simply as the University of Iowa), Miss Horack met Benjamin Franklin Shambaugh, and the couple married in 1897, during which time she continued her research on the Amana Colonies for the Iowa Bureau of Labor Statistics. Her exhaustive documentation and photographs she painstakingly made from glass plate negatives were published in the 1908 book, Amana: Community of True Inspiration. By this time, Benjamin Shambaugh had established himself as a popular lecturer, and the couple formed the center of a diverse social and academic circle that included Jane Addams, Amelia Earhart, and Thornton Wilder, among others. During the 1920s, Mrs. Shambaugh's active lifestyle was slowed by progressive hearing loss. However, she could not deny the request by Amana communal leaders to assist in defending them against a corporate takeover of their property. The result of this latest collaboration was a poignant text entitled Amana That Was, Amana That Is, was published in 1932. Sadly, Mrs. Shambaugh and her ever-present camera were forced to conclude: "The old integrity, the old solidarity, could not successfully resist the encroachments of the world and the powerful influences of the machine age."
Eighty-two-year-old Bertha Horack Shambaugh died on August 30, 1953. Her texts and photographs are included in collections at The University of Iowa and the State Historical Society of Iowa. Her involvement in the Amana Communities is the subject of Abigail Foerstner's book, Picturing Utopia: Bertha Shambaugh and the Amana Photographers, published in 2000 by the University of Iowa Press.
1997 America's Communal Utopias edited by Donald E. Pitzer (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press), p. 182.
2008 The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa (Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press), pp. 452-453.
1972 Commitment and Community: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective by Rosabeth Moss Kante (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), p. 143.
2003 The "Iowa City" Horaks (URL: http://girvangenealogy.com/iowacityhoracks.html). Photo of Bertha and her camera courtesy of Benjamin Shambaugh Horack.
2014 Shambaugh Family Papers: The University of Iowa Libraries (URL: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/scua/archives/guides/shambaugh/shambaugh_family).
2014 The UU News (Iowa City, IA: The Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City), p. 10.
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