From masters of high fashion to documentarians, photographers have always found women to be fascinating subjects. Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl and Dorthea Lange’sMigrant Mother are examples of photographers engaging with female subjects so skillfully that a single image manages to simultaneously convey not just that individual woman’s situation but also that of the larger society in which she resides.
While both McCurry’s and Lange’s photos easily classify among the most memorable photographs of the past century, there is a plethora of great vintage photos featuring women that have been all but lost to the archives. We’ve spent some time rifling through those vintage photo archives to find,what we consider to be, some great vintage women’s history photos. There is every chance you wouldn’t have seen most of these vintage photos from women’s history but,now that you have,we are betting you’ll find them difficult to forget.
Los Angeles’s First Woman Jury
Decked out in fashionable hats, the ladies featured in this vintage women’s history photo gathered in a Los Angeles courtroom in November 1911 to become California’s first all-woman jury. Reports suggest that it took them all of twenty minutes to acquit the editor of the Watts News of charges of printing indecent language.
War Era Vocational Training
So much to love about this vintage women’s history photo from the U.S. National Archives that it is difficult to know where to begin. Photographed in April of 1942, it was used to recruit women into vocational schools to learn skills that would be valuable to the war efforts. If remaining feminine while carrying out previously male duties was part of the training then the subjects of this photo must have been head of the class. There is barely a hair out of place despite the eye gear!
B-17 Bomber Builders
Rosie the Riveter may have been the poster image for women stepping into traditionally male labor jobs to assist the war efforts but the women in this 1942 photograph were very much the real thing. Photographer Alfred T. Palmer caught them hard at work installing fixtures to a tail fuselage of a B-17 Bomber.
Little Knitter Girl
Photographed by Lewis Wickes Hine in 1910, this little girl is exceptional only really in her ordinariness for her time. Employed by Loudon Hosiery Mills in Loudon, Tennessee, she was one of many girls her age, and even younger, that worked as knitters for the company. At the time the women’s history photo was taken, she was unable to recall exactly how long she had been working for the company. As the image shows, she was still too small to reach the equipment without standing on a box. The photograph is archived by the Library of Congress as part of a collection meant to commemorate child labor legislation.
The Bearded Lady of Science
Lucille St. Hoyme started her work with the Smithsonian in 1942 as a clerk and stenographer. By 1964 she had been appointed as curator for the National Museum of Natural History. A position in which she remained until her retirement in 1982. This especially peculiar vintage women’s history photo is from the Smithsonian archives and shows Hoyme and two fellow anthropologists holding up a seventeen and a half foot beard. An artifact which had been found in a North Dakota attic and was believed to have belonged to Hans “King Whiskers” Langseth. A circus traveler who,prior to his 1927 death, had claimed the record for the world’s longest beard.
First Female Astronaut Candidates
No prizes for knowing that Sally Ride was the first female astronaut but could you name the other women that were selected as candidates to compete with her for that honor? This 1978 women’s history photo, taken from the NASA archives, shows Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, Anna Fisher, Kathryn Sullivan and Rhea Seddon taking a break from their training. Though Ride was the first, each of the women in this vintage NASA photo did eventually make it to space. Fisher is still active today making her,at 66,the oldest active American astronaut. Sadly, Resnik was one of the seven astronauts killed in the 1986 Challenger disaster.