Eustis Estate

Written In Light

Photographs from the Milton Historical Society


Margaret Sutermeister, c. 1895. She is holding her camera, which is on view in the case in this room.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, photography became a popular hobby in the United States. Advances in technology, notably, the replacement of the cumbersome wet-plate process by dry glass plate negatives, and the ready availability of equipment, materials, and “how to” books and magazine articles made it easy for amateurs to become adept.

Displayed here are selections from the work of one of Milton’s most renowned photographers, Margaret Sutermeister (1875-1950). Between 1894 and 1909, Margaret produced 1,800 glass negatives, which are now stored in the Milton Historical Society’s collections. Margaret’s work covers a wide variety of subjects (still life, people, and landscapes) and styles, including staged and candid photographs. Both artist and documentarian, Margaret’s photographs record the social, cultural, and environmental history of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Although much of her work lacks descriptions explaining the who, what, when, where, and why of her subjects, Margaret’s photographs still possess immense historical, as well as artistic, value. Thanks to Margaret, moments that otherwise may have been lost to the past have been written in light and preserved for generations to come.

Women Photographers

Photography was considered a suitable hobby for ladies in the late nineteenth century and middle- and upper-class women at this time embraced photography as an outlet for creativity. It was also an activity that allowed for more independence than women usually had at this time. Many women photographers took advantage of this freedom to explore new places and interact with a wide range of people in search of subjects. The photographs by Margaret Sutermeister in this exhibition are not simply recording every day events, but show a true artistic eye. She is also capturing subjects such as people from different levels of society engaged in work.

Amateur Photography

How-to books like this one were written for people interested in the new hobby of photography. This book, “The new recreation : amateur photography : a practical instructor” by D. J. Tapley from 1884 is on view in the case in this gallery. Below are some interior images.

Photography for the Ladies

Many guides to photography of the era made particular reference to photography as a hobby for ladies. They could even go out with “no assistance needed.”

The Gentler Sex

The book acknowledges the creative side of the endeavor noting large numbers of “…enthusiastic and successful artists of the gentler sex.”

Portable Hobby

The manual notes how photography is very portable and possible for everyone to enjoy.

Box Camera

The lightweight “box” cameras were a big development in making this an accessible hobby. Note Margaret Sutermeister’s camera in the case in this gallery.

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Cartes de visite

Cartes de visite Collection, Boston, MA, Allen & Rowell, late 19th century

At a young age, Margaret Sutermeister developed an interest in collecting photographs. In particular, she amassed a collection of cartes de visite or card photographs. Often produced with albumen prints, cartes de visite gained worldwide popularity after 1859 and were intended to replace calling cards. It is likely that Margaret’s fascination with cartes de visite transformed into a passion for creating photographs.

Alice Augusta Rogerson Brown

Alice Augusta Rogerson Brown was also living in Milton in the late 1890s and trying her hand at photography. She was married to John Freeman Brown, a judge in the Superior Court of Dedham, Massachusetts. Shortly after their marriage, Alice and John moved briefly to Boston and then to on to Milton, where they lived in the John Crehore House, built in 1724 on Brush Hill Road. They had two children: a daughter, Alice Train Brown, and a son, John Freeman Brown, Jr, who was born on May 27, 1893. During the time she lived in Milton, Alice maintained her interest in music, playing in recitals and duets with her friend, Mrs. Chickering, of the noted piano making family, as well as developing her artistic interests in photography. With her camera, Brown created hundreds of charming portraits of her family and friends, views of her home and garden and her Milton neighborhood, and images of Boston. In addition, she documented rural scenes in and around East Douglas, Massachusetts, where she spent her youth, and recorded her travels in Maine and New Hampshire. The gallery below contains some of her photographs from Milton.

W.E.C. Eustis - Amateur Photographer

W.E.C. Eustis, the original owner of the Eustis Estate, was an amateur photographer and documented life around the estate and in Milton. Many of the photographs feature his family, especially his children at play. But he also captured the work of the estate and farm, as well as scenes from the community. Sometime after the original construction of the house, a dark room was added to a storage area of the basement. He could develop prints from his glass plate negatives right in his own home.

In the gallery below you can see some of W.E.C.’s photographs, most from the mid-1890s.