From the Collections: Clues from a photo album
Recently a photograph album surfaced in our Historic Photograph Collection, which had previously gone unnoticed. It sent us down a path of discovery. The album, which included no provenance or donation information, contained dozens of black-and-white negatives that we digitized, showing people in early twentieth-century attire. Who were they?
The only clues the album offered came from captions written on its front page—names such as “Mrs. Bingham” and “Edna.” Places including “Beach Bluff” and “Montecito.” We began researching them.
Two families appear most prominently in this album: the Binghams and the Kimballs. We were able to identify among them two students of Mary Baker Eddy: Kate Davidson Kimball (1847–1919) and Helen W. Bingham (1853–1923). Kate Kimball attended Primary classes with Eddy in 1888 and 1889, as well as a Normal class in 1898.1 Her husband, Edward A. Kimball, was one of Eddy’s best-known followers. The album contains numerous photographs of Kate and her daughter, Edna Kimball Wait. Some of Kate’s photos are captioned “Mother,” suggesting Edna may have been the album’s owner.
Helen Bingham also attended Eddy’s Primary classes in 1888 and 1889.2 Research in the Library’s collections of letters and manuscripts uncovered some details about her, as well as her daughter Florence Louise Bingham. The Binghams’ daughter Madeline is pictured in the album; Florence is not.
On April 14, 1897, Helen Bingham wrote to Eddy’s secretary, Calvin A. Frye, referring to “our daughter [Florence], nineteen years of age, who ‘passed on’ in Naples the 28 of December four days before I could get there—and whose photograph I included with the letter [to Eddy].”3 Helen asked for assurance that Eddy had received a portrait of Jesus by the artist Heinrich Hoffmann (1824–1911), which she had sent earlier. Florence purchased this reproduction and before her death had planned to send it to Eddy as a gift.
The next day Eddy posted a reply that was no doubt comforting: “I have learned at last who sent me Hoffman’s crayon of Jesus.” She went on, “When I first saw it and knew not whence it came I scarcely gave it but one look. But one day I looked deeply into it and then I soon sought through the framer to learn who purchased it. Since then and having time to study it I value it highly and especially because of the dear love that sent it.”4
As for the locations mentioned in the album, where was “Beach Bluff”? We concluded that the name refers to a section in the town of Swampscott, Massachusetts, where the Bingham family had purchased a summer home in 1900, shortly before these pictures were taken. There is also a “Beach Bluff Avenue” in Swampscott.5 “Montecito” no doubt refers to a popular resort community on the California coast, perhaps depicted in at least one of the Kimball photographs.
While we were far from able to find out all there is to know about this photo album, the work involved in processing it for our collection shed some new light on the lives of Christian Scientists around the turn of the twentieth century, including their connections to Mary Baker Eddy. Perhaps future research will reveal more about the album’s creation and its owner.
- Christian Scientist Association: Names – Class of March 4, 1889, EOR05.
- Mary Baker Eddy to Helen W. Bingham, 3 August 1888, L04625.
- Helen W. Bingham to Calvin A. Frye, 14 April 1897, IC098.21.007.
- Eddy to Bingham, 15 April 1897, L04626.
- Arthur E. Bingham and Helen W. Bingham purchase “Beach Bluff” property [1625/277 & 279], 10 November 1900, http://salemdeeds.com/salemdeeds/Default2.aspx.