An 1890s Ohio Family: Featuring a Selfie, a Bicycle, and Many Mysteries

An 1890s Ohio Family: Featuring a Selfie, a Bicycle, and Many Mysteries


An 1890s Ohio Family: Featuring a Selfie, a Bicycle, and Many Mysteries

By Kieran Robertson

One of my favorite types of items that you can find at the Ohio History Connection Archives/Library are photographs. It is always exciting to take such a personal look into the lives of people from the past. Recently, I’ve been working with a collection that really fascinates me, and I hope you’re interested too! Most of the photographs date between the 1890s and 1920s.

This collection contains very litte written material, so I started out with almost no information about the individuals in the photographs. However, it is possible to learn so much about the people pictured by carefully “reading” the photograph. Take a look and see what you notice! Below are some pictures from the collection with the information I have learned (admittedly I did consult the census, death records, and a few local newspapers):

This collection was originally donated to a local Warren County museum in 1950 by a woman named Laura Belle Cunningham. You can see Laura as a young woman in this photograph. She is pictured third from the left. Laura was born in 1883 and lived in Lebanon, Ohio.

The pictures in this collection document the experience of Laura’s family in the city of Lebanon, mostly around the 1890s and early 1900s. Laura was related to the Cunningham, Newport, and Ross families. Here she is featured on the bottom left, sitting with a smile on her face.The blurry young boy next to her may have been too impatient to sit still for the full exposure time of the camera.

The people who appear most often in this collection are these three women. From left to right is: Laura Belle Cunningham, Lucy Ross, and Ned Ross. Lucy is Laura’s cousin and Ned likely is as well. Lucy had a younger sister named Mary Eva according to the census. Laura Cunningham, Lucy Ross, and Mary Eva Ross never married and lived together in Lebanon, Ohio throughout their adulthood. I suspect that “Ned” is a nickname for Mary Eva Ross. However I have not been able to prove this without a doubt.


This picture shows Laura and some family members on a hammock. From left to right they are: Unidentified woman, John B. Ross, Laura Belle Cunningham, and Lucy Ross. John B. Ross was father to Lucy and Mary Eva Ross. We can also see that there was a large age difference between Laura and her cousin Lucy.

Speaking of John B. Ross, here he is attempting to cut his grass with a small pair of shearers. Someone wrote on the back of this photograph “don’t let John know I [gave] this picutre to you he would not like it.”

The biggest mystery in this collection has been the identity of this woman, Ned Ross. Is she Laura’s cousin Mary Eva Ross? If not how is she related?

Whoever Ned Ross is, she seems to have lived a very interesting life, full of civic service and a professional career. (Which might help prove my theory that she is Mary Eva Ross. Mary served as a postmaster in Lebanon, among other things.)

This collection also suggests that Ned Ross was an amateur photographer. Here she is taking an early “selfie.”

This is probably my favorite image in the collection. This is Lucy Ross and Laura Cunningham. This picture lets us see how happy these cousins are together. It’s no wonder they spent most of their adulthood as roommates. On the lower right portion of this photograph, you can see a photographer’s mark imprinted. It reads “Ned Ross.” Many of the photographs in this collection include Ned’s mark. It seems she practiced her new hobby by posing her family members.


There are a lot of images pasted into a scrapbook that seem to be from the same “photoshoot” the cousins had. This is Laura and Lucy.


Ned and Lucy


Ned and Laura


Unidentified woman.


Both Lucy and Laura went on to be teachers in Lebanon’s local schools. Here we can see Lucy with her class in the 1890s.

Many of these family photographs are pasted into scrapbooks. On the right side of this page is a family trip to Fort Ancient, one of the Ohio History Connection’s first sites!

I may not have solved this collection’s biggest mysteries, but I definitely learned a lot about Warren County in the 1890s and the intricacies of family life. Plus I simply had a lot of fun looking through these amazing photographs.

Do you have any theories about this collection? Do you happen to know of the families featured in the collection? Let us know in the comments below! And if you’re interested in coming to see this collection at the Ohio History Connection Archives/Library the collection name is : AV 298 Laura Cunningham Photograph Collection.

Posted August 10, 2016
Topics: Daily Life

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