Marian “Clover” Hooper was born in Boston, Massachusetts on September 13, 1843. The youngest child of Dr. Robert Hooper and Transcendentalist poet Ellen Sturgis Hooper, she and her siblings enjoyed a privileged childhood marred by Mrs. Hooper’s death from tuberculosis in the late 1840s. Dr. Hooper ensured his children had the finest private school education, and after graduation, Miss Hooper served as a volunteer for the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the Civil War.
After the war, she met another prominent Bostonian, Henry Adams (distant cousin of John and John Quincy Adams) while traveling in London. The couple married in Boston on June 27, 1872, and after a European honeymoon, moved into a luxurious mansion on 91 Marlborough Street. Professor Adams taught medieval history at Harvard while his wife established a reputation as one of the area’s leading socialites. The Adamses moved to the nation’s capital in 1877, where they quickly moved to the center of the D.C. social scene. In 1883, she wrote to a friend that she had recently purchased a “new and small machine,” a mahogany camera, quickly learning how to photograph and develop 5 x 8” dry plates. She painstakingly documented her progress in a small notebook, in which she jotted the date and time of each exposure, along with detailed observations, and later X-ed out the listings with which she was dissatisfied. A self-taught amateur photographer, she educated herself on basic fundamentals with the reference text, Captain William de Wiveleslie Abney’s A Treatise on Photography (1878).
Unlike her female contemporaries who took up photography as a means to fill their empty leisure hours, Mrs. Adams sought to emulate the professionals with whom she was acquainted, experimenting with numerous chemicals until she discovered the combination that produced her most desirable results. Her images received a great deal of local attention, much to the dismay of her disapproving husband. Her portraits consisted primarily of family and well-known friends, including future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., painter John La Farge, and onetime Secretary of State William M Evans. Her mastery of texturing and lighting is particularly evident in her portrait of her in-laws, Charles F. and Abigail Brooks Adams. She utilizes darkness in the doorway to denote emotional distance, and by lowering her vantage point she depicted the couple in art as she saw them in life: looking down upon those they regarded as inferiors.
Although Mrs. Adams initially made albumen prints, she discovered platinotype was much more to her liking, noting to her father that the arduous process “was science pure and simple.” Dr. Hooper’s death on April 13, 1885, dealt a mortal blow to his daughter’s fragile mental state. Suffering from depression, 42-year-old Marian “Clover” Adams committed suicide by ingesting the potassium cyanide she used for developing on December 6, 1885. Her photographic collection, along with many of her personal papers and correspondence, can be found at The Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.
2014 Beyond Grief: Sculpture and Wonder in the Gilded Age Cemetery by Cynthia Mills (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press), p. 3.
2012 Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life by Natalie Dykstra (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), pp. 139, 141, 146-147.
2011 Clover Adams: Washington DC Socialite and Photographer by Maggie MacLean (URL: https://www.civilwarwomenblog.com/clover-adams).
2012 A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life by John O’Rourke (URL: http://www.bu.edu/today/2012/a-gilded-and-heartbreaking-life).
2018 A Photographic Portrait of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., by Marian "Clover" Hooper Adams (URL: https://www.masshist.org/object-of-the-month/objects/a-photographic-portrait-of-oliver-wendell-holmes-jr-2012-02-01).
2017 Marian Hooper Adams (URL: https://www.oursphotomag.com/blog/marian-hooper-adams-1880).
2018 Marian Hooper Adams Photographs (URL: http://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fap007).
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