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  Glenalvin Goodridge, Photographer

Glenalvin Goodridge was born in York, Pennsylvania on February 7, 1828. The eldest of seven children born to William and Evalina “Emily” Goodridge, he and his siblings enjoyed a privileged childhood, which was rare for nineteenth-century African Americans. His father, now celebrated for his efforts to assist escaped slaves with the Underground Railroad, became a successful businessman. All of his children received private educations at the St. Francis Academy in Baltimore, Maryland. Employed first as a teacher, following his marriage to Rhoda Cornelia Grey in 1851, Mr. Goodridge decided to focus on the more lucrative profession of photography. It is unknown how he was introduced to the daguerreotype, but by the mid-1850s, he was one of only a handful of African American photographers in the United States.

Although Mr. Goodridge operated the most successful daguerreotype gallery in southcentral Pennsylvania, the impending Civil War forced the young photographic artist into bankruptcy. Undeterred, Mr. Goodridge opened another studio in downtown York, where he charged $15 for a half-plate daguerreotype portrait encased in gold, which was more than twice what his competitors were charging. Nevertheless, Mr. Goodridge, who obviously inherited his father’s business acumen, demonstrated how photography could become a successful vocation without sacrificing its artistry for profit. His fifth-floor studio skylight received ample natural lighting, and featured the latest equipment which advertisements claimed enabled the photographer to “take likenesses in a few seconds with perfect natural expressions.” Mr. Goodridge’s pine balsam ambrotypes (with a license he was obligated to purchase from James Ambrose Cutting) are now valued collectables, and believed to be among the finest of their kind.

In the spring of 1861, Mr. Goodridge opened his ‘American Photographic Gallery’ in the neighboring town of Columbia, which advertised “Ambrotype and Melainotype Likenesses [with] Satisfaction warranted in all cases, or no charge." Business was booming at both locations when the unimaginable happened the following year. A caucasian woman named Mary E. Smith alleged that Mr. Goodridge assaulted her and engaged in “unlawful carnal knowledge” in one of his studio rooms without her consent. Despite insufficient evidence and the defendant’s alibi, he was found guilty of rape and sentenced to five years incarceration at one of Pennsylvania’s most notorious correctional facilities – Eastern Penitentiary in Philadelphia. However, after 18 months, an elaborate extortion plot was revealed, and Mr. Goodridge was unceremoniously released from Eastern Penitentary. Nonetheless, the damage to his reputation in Pennsylvania was insurmountable.

At around the same time, the William Goodridge family was forced to leave York after the city fell to the Confederates in 1862. After a brief stay in Minnesota, they settled in East Saginaw, Michigan, where Wallace and William Goodridge, Jr. opened a photography studio. Their oldest brother joined them shortly after his release. This venture was another success, credited in large part to the elder Goodridge’s artistry. Sadly, however, he had contracted tuberculosis during his wrongful imprisonment, and Glenalvin Goodridge died on March 15, 1867, at the age of 39. The Goodridge studio continue to operate until 1922.

2019 African American Entrepreneurship (URL:

2016 AHGP Saginaw County, Michigan: Goodridge by Cheryl Siedelmann (URL:

2000 Enterprising Images by John Vincent Jezierski (Detroit: Wayne State University Press), pp. 23-49.

1997 Pennsylvania History. Vol. LXIV (Mansfield, PA: Pennsylvania Historical Association), pp. 310-332.

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2020-05-03 10:09:31

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