The Mysterious Miss Hodges

For some time, I’ve been curious about a pair of beautiful daguerreotypes by the esteemed Boston photography studio of Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes (1843-1863) featuring a lovely young woman identified only as “Miss Hodges of Salem”. All of the Southworth and Hawes photographic portraits are riveting, but these are particularly so: they are large, whole-plate images, they were insured by the partner photographers, and both were retained by members of the Hawes family long after the dissolution of the partnership. The description for the daguerreotype in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum reads: The Boston partnership of Southworth and Hawes produced the finest portrait daguerreotypes in America for a clientele that included leading political, intellectual, and artistic figures. Nothing is known today about Miss Hodges, but Southworth and Hawes made two costly whole-plate portraits of her for their studio collection, suggesting that she was sufficiently well-known – or sufficiently photogenic – to warrant displaying her likeness in the front-room public gallery.

Miss Hodges MFA

Miss Hodges MET

Miss Hodges of Salem, c. 1850: (1) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (gift of Edward Southworth Hawes in memory of his father Josiah Johnson Hawes); (2) Metropolitan Museum of Art (gift of I. N. Phelps Stokes, Edward S. Hawes, Alice Mary Hawes, and Marion Augusta Hawes, 1937).

So which was it: well-known or photogenic? Well I’m not entirely sure, because Miss Hodges is somewhat mysterious, but I think it is the latter. I think “Miss Hodges of Salem” was Sarah Ellen Hodges, born in 1823 to Joseph Hodges and his wife Elizabeth Shipman Hodges, both of old Salem families. There are a couple of other candidates, but Sarah is my best bet. If she is indeed our Miss Hodges, she never married, and lived with family members and then alone in a boarding house on Bridge Street in Salem from 1883 until her death in 1895. The extended Hodges family was old and prosperous, with a succession of Salem sea captains dating back to the seventeenth century, but Joseph Hodges seems to have been a bit of a black sheep and I think money might have been a problem. His family of seven, including Sarah and her four siblings, moved around every few years according to the Salem city directories: from one old family home to another on lower Essex Street. And then there is this very curious entry in the Genealogical Record of the Hodges Family of New England, Ending December 31, 1894 by Almon D. Hodges (1896):

Joseph Hodges is said to have been so small at birth that he was put into a silver tankard and the cover shut; but he grew to be a very large man, like most of his race. When Gen. Washington visited Salem, Oct. 29, 1789, the babe Joseph (then 13 days old) was held up at the window to see him. Joseph Hodges was a shipmaster in his younger days, but retired early from active business. He met his death through an accident. He was walking on the railroad bridge at the northern end of the tunnel when a train of cars came on the bridge behind him. He was large and heavy and unable to escape by running, so he crouched at the side of the track, but was knocked to the flats below and died a few minutes after he was taken up.

Early retirement? Hit by a train? By sheer coincidence (?) his wife died by accident on the railroad, near the northern end of the tunnel twenty years later, according to Sidney Perley’s History of Salem (Volume III). Have these two railroad deaths–both at the northern end of the tunnel– been confused? I hope so! In any case, there are other hints that the Hodges were at most a tragic family, or at least one that did not adjust very well to Salem’s nineteenth-century transition from commerce to industry. Sarah was the only one who didn’t marry or get out of Salem, and I have no insights into what she might have done with her life. She and her siblings inherited a mere half of a house among them after their mother’s death in 1883, which they quickly sold, and then she appears to have lived alone until her death. The daguerreotypes might have been one of the highlights of her life, if indeed they depict her.

Millard Fillmore Southworth and Hawes

A Daguerreotype of President Millard Fillmore taken at just about the same time as those of Miss Hodges. It is about half the size of hers, and sold for over $10,000 at a 2005 Skinner auction.


7 responses to “The Mysterious Miss Hodges

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