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  Alice Le Plongeon

Alice Dixon, the second child born to photographer Henry and Sophia Cook Dixon, was born in London on December 21, 1851. During her childhood, young Alice learned the art of photography by watching her father and helping her mother who served as her husband’s assistant. Most of Henry Dixon’s work involved photographing museum artworks, a vocation his young daughter would embrace in adulthood. Miss Dixon received instruction in Spiritualism from her uncle Jacob, and these beliefs would later manifest themselves in her photography. At age 19, she was introduced to Augustus Le Plongeon, a French author, amateur photographer, and amateur archaeologist. Miss Dixon was dazzled by this eccentric man of the world, and despite a 25-year-age difference, the couple married in January of 1873.

Settling in New York, the restless pair quickly discovered a quiet domestic life was not them, and within a few years set out for Mexico on an extensive archeological expedition. After setting up camp in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mrs. Le Plongeon applied everything she had learned from her photographer father and Spiritualist uncle in capturing 3-D images of Mayan ruins. Keeping the plates treated with silver nitrate from scratching was made even more challenging by the intense heat and humidity. Processing chemicals became easily contaminated in the jungles, and would often require retakes. Mr. Le Plongeon complained frequently about dust or insects adhering to his wife’s glass plates. While pronouncing the advent of gelatin dry plates as “a godsend to all who roam far from home,” Mrs. Le Plongeon added that developing the negatives in such a humid climate remained a tricky proposition. During their decade-long sojourn in the Mexican tropics, the Le Plongeons needed to keep their equipment to a minimum for the ease of transport. They used two Scovill view cameras; 4x8” stereo plates and 5x8” single-image plates; and several Dallmeyer, Harrison, Morrison, and Ross, and lenses to accommodate stereo views and portraits.

In 1884, the Le Plongeons returned to New York, where Alice exchanged her camera for a pen, writing books and articles while occasionally giving lectures on their travels. She also became involved in several charitable organizations, and remained a devout Spiritualist. She and her husband were deeply hurt by the archaeological community’s resounding rejection of their research, criticizing their flamboyance as all style with little substance. By 1908, Augustus Le Plongeon was a broken man and died in December of that year. Mrs. Le Plongeon dedicated her last years to restoring their professional reputations, and died of breast cancer at New York Women’s Hospital on June 8, 1910. Her original photographs can be found at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City; Harvard University’s Peabody Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the Philosophical Research Society and Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

2018 Alice and Augustus Le Plongeon Camping in Governor’s Palace at Uxmal (1876) (URL:

1988 A Dream of Maya: Augustus and Alice Le Plongeon in Nineteenth Century Yucatan by Lawrence Gustave Desmond and Phyllis Mauch Messenger (URL:

1877 Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries by Stephen Salisbury, Jr. (Worcester, MA: Press of Charles Hamilton)

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 1505.

2009 Yucatan Through Her Eyes (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press).

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2020-05-04 18:09:47

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