Friday, June 22, 2012

Mattie Lyon Breed

Here's a light rabbit hole story for you. I recently picked up this photograph of a very attractive lady, identified on the back as Mattie Lyon Breed and Mrs. R. E. Breed.

Mattie Lyon Breed

The actual photo is somewhat faded, so I've darkened it a bit to make it clearer. Here's the back:


Before we start researching her name, what can we say about the photograph? Well, first of all, it's what was called a carte de visite, which was – for all intents and purposes – the first commercially successful photograph that could be reproduced in limitless numbers. Cartes de visite were the size of a modern business card, and were commonly passed out like calling cards among friends. You can see on the back, at the bottom, that the cards were usually sold by the dozen. They were quite the rage for a decade or so, and people often collected their friends' cartes de visite in albums. Sort of the original Facebook. Photographers would often take portraits of famous persons, then sell their images as cartes de visite. They were so commonplace that many "original" carte de visite portraits of Abraham Lincoln, for example, are still available for modest sums.

Cartes de visite were very popular in the 1860's, but generally died out in the 1870's as the larger cabinet cards appeared, though they continued to appear even in the 1890's. So here we have a general time-frame for the portrait.

An unusual item in the picture, as it turns out, is the bow. I looked through quite a number of 19th century pictures while researching this portrait, and the only time I saw big bows under the ladies' chins have been within a few years of 1870. That doesn't exactly nail the date, but it's suggestive.

Finally, there's the photographer: Graham, at 93 Wood St., Pittsburgh.  The Pittsburgh City Directory for 1867 contains this entry:

Pittsburgh City Directory, 1867

There was no Directory entry for Thomas Graham in 1866 or 1868, so we would be justified in thinking this portrait was taken in about 1867. A puddler, by the way, was someone who held a difficult and dangerous job in the iron industry.

So we've established a reasonable timeframe for this portrait; let's flip the back of the photo 90º and consider what's written on it.

This is a portrait of Mattie Lyon Breed, also known as Mrs. R.E. Breed, who was the mother of "flnfer" Breed. (I just can't make that out; can you?)

As luck would have it, there WAS a Mattie Breed married to an R. Breed, and only one, who lived in Pittsburgh at about this time. We find them both in the 1870 Census:

1870 Census of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
If you look carefully, you'll see that Mattie Breed, the mother of three regularly-spaced children, was 32 years old in 1870, which would make her about 29 in the picture. Richard Breed, her husband, had real estate valued at $40,000 and a personal estate valued at $10,000, both of which were a LOT of money in 1870. I mean, a LOT! So maybe it's not surprising that they had a cook, a chamber maid, and a gardener living with them; because they had a LOT of money.

Throughout the 1860's, Richard E. Breed is listed in the Pittsburgh Directory as a dealer in china, glass, and "queensware," a type of Wedgwood china. In the census above you can barely make out the word "merchant" in his occupation field.

At some time in the next 30 years Richard and Mattie moved to Marion, Indiana, with their son, Richard E. Breed, where the younger Richard took up glassmaking on a large scale and became president and treasurer of the Marion Flint Glass Co.

Boys work here but the boss would not permit any photographing.
If you Google "Marion Flint Glass Co." you will find several pages of reference to a 1908 photograph taken there by Lewis Hine, with Hine's annotation, "Boys work here but the boss would not permit any photographing."

Hine took other photographs of Indiana glassworkers, however.

The Ball Team, composed mainly of glass workers. Indiana, 1908, by Lewis Hine

Midnight at the Glassworks, Indiana, 1908, by Lewis Hine

By 1900, Richard, Sr., was owner of a general insurance agency named Breed & Ball. When you say the name Ball in Indiana, it means something. Ball jars may seem mundane today, but they made the Ball family very comfortable financially, and quite the philanthropists. Though I haven't researched it, it seems very likely, with his son in the glass business, that Richard Breed Sr.'s partner was connected to the Ball family.

The 1900 Census showed Richard and Mattie still living in Marion, but reading between the lines there's more than a hint of sadness. Mattie, or Martha, as she's called here, is shown as the mother of six children, of whom only four are still living. Sadly, this would not be considered unusual at the time.

Whether it was the deaths of her children or another cause, Mattie's health deteriorated to the point that in 1910 the census taker found her a patient at the Norway's Sanitorium in Indianapolis.

Norway's Sanitorium
The website Historic Indianapolis describes Norway's Sanitorium:
Neurologist Dr. Albert E. Sterne ... opened Norways, a private sanatorium, in 1898. It was a hospital for people with nervous and mental disorders at a time when mental illness was starting to be understood as a disease. The facility attracted customers from across the country and, at an average price of $50 per week by 1918, this was an expensive stay. Advertising mentions that the sanatorium was for people who were “used to luxury.” Attendants treated all forms of “constitutional maladies,” (including rheumatism, diabetes, stomach and kidney troubles, paralysis, and drug addictions) particularly those cured by the use of electricity, baths, massage, diet, and rest.
I can't say it's typical, but when the census taker arrived there on April 18, she recorded 28 employees in residence (counting Dr. Sterne) – and two patients.

1910 Census of Norway Sanitorium (partial)

Online genealogies of the Breed family say Mattie died in Nashville, Indiana, in 1917, and is buried in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh. Her husband, Richard, died in 1923. Online genealogies are notoriously unreliable. These particular ones are unsourced or poorly sourced, and I was unable to confirm the dates, but think that in this case they may be correct.

In 1906 Mattie's son, Richard E., Jr., the employer of child labor, was an original investor/partner in the American Gas and Electric Co., later to become the American Electric Power Co., and was well on his way to joining the meritocracy.