The Woman in the Kerchief

Sometimes found photos are like a little mystery story.  When and where were they taken? Who is in the picture?  What prompted the photo?  I know none of the details here, but my guess is that this is an extended farm family somewhere on the Great Plains (it could be Canada) sometime in the 1940s.  The photo has typical elements of a large family snap shot—attentive parents, sullen youth, expectant faces.  Someone on the left has told a joke, which many others enjoyed.

But what about the woman in the kerchief?  She sets herself apart in this picture—her face wooden, her pose stiff.  She has not heard or did not appreciate the joke. Her clothing also isolates her from the others.  While the older women in the center wear medium colored house dresses with short sleeves, she has on a long sleeved black garment that looks like a sweater. Her kerchief makes her the only woman with any kind of head covering.

I associate the kerchief with immigrants from Eastern Europe, both Orthodox Jewish women and Russian or Ukrainian peasant women, who traditionally cover their hair.  So here is the story that I have created for the picture.  The great grandmother on the left is the surviving member of a couple that emigrated from Eastern Europe.  While she did not learn English well and refused to give up elements of her accustomed clothing, her children assimilated into the new culture and went on to build up a prosperous family farm. It might not be a true story, but it fits the clothes.

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