By the late 1890s the camera was a fixture in American life. Thanks largely to the Eastman Kodak Co., ordinary people were recording the ordinary events of their everyday lives, which seem so extraordinary to us more than a century later. One early shutterbug was Ruth Montgomery, who with her family of four lived aboard the Carrie Winslow, a three-masted bark sailing out of East Boothbay, Maine. Her father, Capt. Adelbert Montgomery, was commander of the well-known cargo carrier.
From 1899 through 1903, the young photographer made three voyages to South America, and she took more than 600 pictures, which now form the Ruth Montgomery Collection at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine. Most endearing are the snapshots of daily life on a bark in the 1890s. Pictured here is Ruth’s dog, Topsey, sitting in front of his doghouse on the main deck. Just visible in the background is her Uncle Frank, taking a turn at the wheel.
For the Montgomery family, making a living meant a life at sea. Ruth’s grandfathers and many of her uncles and great-uncles were ship masters, and she made her first voyage in 1885 at age 5. Along with her brother, Frank, she would spend the next 18 years on her father’s sailing ships.
It was a fascinating life for a photographer — men working the ship, climbing the rigging, mending sails, taking noon observations. When the ship arrived at a port, locals in small craft would come alongside to sell vegetables and fruit. There were exotic sightseeing tours and formal gatherings in the bark’s main cabin — all fodder for her lens.
A fourth-generation descendant of Ruth’s grandfather donated the collection to the museum in 1990. The images, along with more than 60,000 other historic photographs, can be seen at www.penobscotmarinemuseum.org.
Photo courtesy of the Penobscot Marine Museum, Ruth Montgomery Collection
May 2014 issue