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  Julia A. Rudolph, Photographer

Julia Ann Swift was born circa 1820, presumably in New York State, to Louise Spencer and Ichabod Swift, Jr. Little is known about her early life and education, until May 15, 1839, when she obtained a teacher’s certificate in Litchfield, Connecticut. After a decade of teaching, she married a farmer with the surname of Raymond, with whom she had a daughter, Louisa Genevieve. He left for California shortly thereafter, at the height of the gold rush, and never returned. Now a single mother who needed to provide for her family, Mrs. Raymond and her daughter moved to Utica, where she learned about the daguerreotype from her employer, acclaimed regional photographer Daniel David Tompkins Davie.

After three years of working for Mr. Davie, Mrs. Raymond and her young daughter sailed to California, by way of the Isthmus of Panama, in hopes of tracking down her wayward husband. When these efforts proved futile, the devout Christian filed for divorce. Settling in Nevada City, California, she began to operate the George O. Kilbourn Gallery on Commercial Street, where she advertised her business under the name of “Mrs. Julia A. Raymond.” Within a few months, however, the gallery was destroyed by fire; but the ever-resourceful Mrs. Rudolph rebuilt the structure and renamed it “Ambrotype Gallery,” and also commenced signing her portraits using her maiden name.

In December of 1856, she would change her name yet again when she married local druggist James Ferdinand Rudolph, with whom she would have two daughters. The following year, she moved her studio into the Nevada City Democrat newspaper building, where she displayed her many talents for ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, melainotypes/tintypes, and photos printed on paper; leather; and silver, glass and iron plates. By 1860, the Rudolphs left Nevada and moved to Sacramento, where Julia opened a studio she operated on the second floor of her husband’s drugstore. She became so successful that she reopened her Nevada City portrait studio; and thereafter, the family shuttled between the two cities. When James Rudolph contracted malaria, it was discovered that the higher elevation of Nevada City seemed to improve his health.

Julia A. Rudolph enjoyed a lengthy career as a California’s first female photographer, and during her 36 years, had produced among the highest quality daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and leather-mounted tintypes of the period. She is lauded by renowned photographic historian Peter Palmquist for her “remarkable” career that represents “an exceedingly rare longevity for a woman in that profession during the 19th century.” She died of ‘consumption of lungs’ – an unfortunate fate of many daguerreotypists who were frequently exposed to poisonous chemicals – in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 22, 1890. Her photographs can be found at the California State Library in Sacramento; the Women in Photography International Archive in Arcata, California, and at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven, Connecticut.

2015 Julia Ann Rudolph: Capturing the Light (URL:

2017 Julia Ann Swift Rudolph (URL:

2019 Photograph of a Young Girl in a White Dress Wearing Accessories That Include a Tiara and Necklace While Holding a Small Bouquet of Flowers in One Hand (URL:

2000 Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865 by Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), pp. 463-464.

2003 Women Artists of the American West edited by Susan R. Ressler (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.), p. 333.

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