I found a photograph among my great grandparent’s collections that sent me on a little journey. Nels and Emma Just were Idaho pioneers who came to the state (separately) in 1863. They met in 1870 during the construction of the military Fort Hall on Lincoln Creek. She was baking bread for the soldiers and living with her aunt and uncle nearby. He was a freighter who counted the fort an occasional customer.
The photo, below, is of Fort Hall’s Dr. Gregory and his wife. I’ll research them for another post. This is not about the photo itself, but about the photographers, The Misses Mudge. I was able to develop an interesting post from a similar clue found on another photo in that collection, leading me to learn more about the Union Pacific Photo Car. I wasn’t as successful with this search, but I’ll tell you what I learned.
The photograph of the doctor and his wife is a good example of a cabinet card. Cabinet cards were introduced in the 1860s, and were especially popular in the 1870s, 80s, and 90s. They disappeared from popular use in the 1930s.
Cabinet cards, thin photos mounted on card stock that formed its own frame, were designed to be placed on a cabinet, shelf, or dresser to display a favorite photo. They were larger than the photographic type they replaced, small carte de viste photos most often displayed in an album. Cabinet card brought photos out for everyone to view.
It was common for photographers to put their imprint on the front and something about their business on the back. What drew me to the creator or creators of this cabinet card was the name, “The Misses Mudge.” I’m a sucker for alliteration and I’m always on the lookout for jobs women were doing in earlier days that one might not have expected.
Women photographers were not especially rare, but the Mudges were probably the first to set up shop in Blackfoot. Years later (the 1950s and 1960s) Grace Sandberg would be THE photographer in Blackfoot.
What drew the Mudges to Idaho? I wasn’t able to learn that, but we know it wasn’t accidental. The sisters Kathrine Raymond Mudge and Caroline Alide Mudge, sent samples of their work ahead of their arrival to be put on display in the Blackfoot Post Office. That was in May 1892.
“The Misses Mudge, of Randalis, Iowa, will be here in about two weeks to open a photograph gallery. They come highly recommended, but their work will be on exhibition at the post office within a few days and will speak for itself. Notice it and judge of it.”
The sisters went by Kate and Carry. It took some sleuthing to learn that. Carry was mentioned by name exactly once in the Blackfoot paper, Kate a handful of times. Whenever the mention involved photography, and often when it didn’t, they were called The Misses Mudge.
In August 1892, they had set up their gallery “south of Hopkins lumber.” It was open four days a week, Wednesday through Saturday, saving Mondays and Tuesdays for “finishing work.” Portraits were their bread and butter, but the Mudge sisters made the papers when they travelled to Fort Hall to take pictures of various things, and when they shot group photos.
The Misses Mudge closed their gallery in December, probably to winter in California. They were back in Blackfoot the following spring taking photos and taking part in community activities. They often sang as a duet for various functions, particularly those sponsored by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
In July 1893 The Misses Mudge were advertising their cabinet photos for $3 a dozen. That seems like a bargain, at least until you consider what wages were at that time. A farmworker was making about $13 a month.
The sisters took a train to California in October 1893. They came back the following spring, but little mention was made of them after that. In 1904, Kate came back for a visit.
The Misses Mudge, and a third sister, Rosela Emma “Rose” Mudge, ended up in Redlands, California. All three had been teachers at some time in their lives. None of them ever married. The three sisters are buried in Redlands.
We will probably never know what brought them to Blackfoot that summer of 1892. They left their mark in family photo albums of the time, many of which are still around. One thing they did not leave behind, at least for me to find, was a picture of The Misses Mudge.