In honor of Black History Month, I’ve been searching for collections of photographs of African Americans that might include older women. One rich source I discovered is the private collection of Mike Cochran, given to the Portal of Texas History. They are listed as photographic negatives of African Americans found in and around Waco, Texas.
This dignified portrait shows an older black woman with closely cropped white hair. Although the clothes and the background indicate it was taken some time ago, the hair style looks modern to my eyes. When I used to visit my daughter in Chicago, I saw many older black women with the same cropped style.
When was the photo taken? The style of the shirtwaist dress, with its open pleats below the shoulders, self fabric belt, and slightly puffed sleeves, indicate the late thirties. Of course, we don’t know how long this woman wore the dress. She might have kept it for a very long time.
The most striking element of the picture is the woman’s butterfly pin, lifting our eyes from the dark dress to her serious face. Did she add it out of modesty, to close up the neckline further? Or was it a signature piece of jewelry? I would like to think that she found a place for it on all her clothes.