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  Mary Ann Meade, First Woman Photographer

Born in London, England to Henry R. and Mary Meade in 1826, Mary Ann Meade arrived in the United States when she was 18. She joined her older brothers Henry and Charles in their fledgling daguerreotype business, which opened in Albany, New York in 1842. The ambitious brothers received technical instruction from Louis-Jacques Mande Daguerre himself, which they shamelessly promoted in their business advertising. Miss Meade received her education into all of the daguerreotyping processes from her brothers, and is believed to be the world's first woman daguerreotypist. She proved to be a valuable assistant in marketing the new daguerreotype portraits, which were often referred to at the time as the "mirror with a memory." Her keen business acumen enabled the Meades to expand their enterprise to include studios in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood, Buffalo, and Sarasota Springs.

In 1850, the Meades realized their dream of opening a gallery in a prime downtown Manhattan location, 233 Broadway. Named American Daguerreotype Depot, its glamorous portrait sitting rooms received international attention. Henry and Charles Meade were always front and center, but it was their younger sister who was managing all aspects of the business from behind the scenes. When Charles became ill, Mary's role increased, and after his death in 1858, she became more involved in the gallery's daily operations. By 1862, she was officially named gallery director, and she became more visible to the public, greeting visitors who toured the facility and used her engaging personality to put portrait sitters at ease. They included such prominent individuals as author and critic Charles Dickens, actors Edwin Booth and Lester Wallack, and revered soldier and statesman Sam Houston. The studio - which continued to operate as the Meade Brothers – suffered a major loss with the death of Charles R. Meade, and were unable to maintain pace with rapidly changing technology, which by the 1860s included albumen or paper prints. Beset by financial and marital problems, Henry W. M. Meade sank deeper in depression, leaving Mary Ann to run the business virtually by herself. When her brother committed suicide in 1865, Miss Meade was forced to sell the studio.

With time, the Meades once-revered photographic reputation faded. Miss Meade, who never married, lived out the remainder of her life in Brooklyn, New York. Mary Ann Meade died in virtual obscurity on January 17, 1903. A portrait of Miss Meade celebrating her contributions to the history of photography is currently being exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery.

2013 The Brothers Meade & Their Daguerreotype Tokens (URL:

2013 How One New York City Studio and the Brothers Behind It Helped Popularize the Daguerreotype (URL:

2012 Mary Ann Meade (URL:

1902 The New Photo-Miniature, Vol. IV (New York: Tennant and Ward), p. 555.

1903 The St. Louis and Canadian Photographer, Vol. XXVII (St. Louis, MO: Mrs. Fitzgibbon-Clark), p. 145.

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2013-09-24 20:25:00

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