African American Woman holding a White Infant

Unknown American, American


about 1852-1853

Daguerreotype, quarter plate, in a leather case with a brass mat

Image: 3 3/8 × 2 1/4 in. (8.6 × 5.7 cm)

Case: 4 3/4 × 3 5/8 in. (12.1 × 9.2 cm)

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: Purchased through Olivia H. and John O. Parker '58 Acquisition Fund and the James and Barbara Block Acquisitions Endowment



Place Made: United States, North America


19th century

Object Name


Research Area


Not on view


As viewers we can only wonder what this young, unidentified woman—who is almost certainly a nursemaid for the infant she holds—is thinking as she stares into the distance. She bears a stoic, serene expression and is well-coiffed and handsomely dressed, with lace and a large cameo adorning her neckline. Photographs of African American caregivers with their white charges were common from the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth century, especially in the South. The practice of employers or masters arranging for photographs of their African American nannies reinforced a commonly held belief in the benevolence of such relationships. Sadly, supporters of slavery often used the photographic “evidence” of African American nannies as healthy, well cared for, and “one of the family,” in defense of their cause. Although we don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding this portrait, we can admire its rich tonal gradations and exceptional clarity, made possible, in part, by the woman having sat stone-still through the long exposure period required of photography at this time (the softly blurred infant had no such patience).

From the 2019 exhibition American Art, Colonial to Modern, curated by Barbara J. MacAdam, Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art

Course History

AAAS 67.5, GEOG 21.01, Black Consciousness and Black Feminisms, Abigail Neely, Winter 2019

AAAS 10.01, Introduction to African American Studies, Trica Keaton, Spring 2022

Humanities 2.01, The Modern Labyrinth, Lucas Hollister, Petra McGillen, Andrea Tarnowski, Laura Edmondson, Winter 2023

Sociology 61.01, Quantitative Social Science 30.17, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 33.05, Gender (In)equality, Kristin Smith, Spring 2023

Anthropology 55.01, Anthropology of Global Health, Anne Sosin, Fall 2023

Film Studies 47.30, Black Looks, Tory Jeffay, Fall 2023

African and African American Studies 7.01, Picturing African American History, Michael Chaney, Spring 2024

Exhibition History

American Art, Colonial to Modern, Israel Sack Gallery and Rush Family Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 26-July 21, 2019.


Estate of a private collector, Florida; sold to Dennis A. Waters, Exeter, New Hampshire (dealer), about 2006; sold to collector and dealer of photography in Midwest, about 2012; sold to Casey A. Waters (son of Dennis), Exeter, New Hampshire (dealer), about 2014; sold to present collection, 2016.

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