Frederick Douglass Daguerreotype

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Primary Contact: 
Pamela Powell
Primary Phone: 
Primary Email:
Release Date: 
Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Frederick Douglass Daguerreotype. Edward White Gallery (New York City), May 1848.
“... Presented by him to Susan B. Anthony whose niece Miss Lucy E. Anthony
gave it to Albert Cook Myers.”
Owner:  Chester County Historical Society, Albert Cook Myers Collection (West Chester, PA). Call no:  Photo/Dg327/Bx29

Exhibit dates, U. of Rochester Rush Rhees Library, 2nd floor Plutzik Library:  Dec. 4, 2015 – Feb. 29, 2016.
Exhibit hours:  Mon.-Fri. 9 am – 5 pm, Sat. 11 am – 3 pm.
Holiday and intersession hours and closures:  12/24 9 am – noon; 12/25 closed; 12/31 9 am – 3 pm; 1/1 closed; also closed the following Saturdays: 12/26, 1/2, 1/9.

Background:  In 1839, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre unveiled one of the world’s first successful photographic mediums: the daguerreotype. The process transformed the human experience by providing a means to capture light and record people, places, and events. The University of Rochester is leading groundbreaking nanotechnology research that explores the extraordinary qualities of this photographic process.

Frederick Douglass was the most photographed American of the nineteenth century.  He also wrote more on the topic of photography than any of his American contemporaries.  Of the nine known surviving daguerreotypes of Douglass, the earliest were taken in 1841 and 1843 by unknown photographers.  According to notes from Albert Cook Myers, this 1848 portrait was a gift from Frederick Douglass to Susan B. Anthony. 

Recently-published research indicates this plate was likely to have been taken in New York City in May of 1848 by Edward White’s “United States Daguerreian Gallery” just five months after Douglass’ move to Rochester to begin publishing his abolitionist newspaper North Star, and only two months before the July 1848 Seneca Falls New York Woman’s Rights Convention, where Douglass was the only man in attendance. 


“Frederick Douglass had a long association with Rochester, with Susan B. Anthony, and with the causes of suffrage and abolition. This makes it especially significant that this unique portrait – once gifted by Douglass himself to Susan B. Anthony – be entrusted by Chester County Historical Society for both library exhibition and advanced scientific study at the University of Rochester.” – Mary Ann Mavrinac, vice provost and Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of River Campus Libraries.

“Douglass spent 25 crucial years of activism in Rochester. Both he and Anthony are buried just about a mile from here in Mt. Hope Cemetery. University of Rochester suffrage and abolition holdings are among the strongest in the nation. Just as the city continues to find ways to honor the memory and work of Douglass and Anthony, we also continue to acquire, to integrate into the curriculum, and to exhibit these collections, which include unique manuscripts, original photographs, and earliest published works. We are excited to collaborate with Chester County Historical Society in helping to reunite these reform leaders through this exhibition.” – Lori Birrell, Historical Manuscripts Librarian and Frederick Douglass Papers Curator.

“We are very excited to have this remarkable daguerreotype here in Rochester and to be able to share it with the community. The opportunity to use the powerful nano science tools of the University nano center and our extensive experience to study the object offers us a unique opportunity to contribute to understanding who made the image and when and to ensure its conservation for generations to come.” – Nicholas Bigelow, Lee A. DuBridge Professor of Physics.

“Daguerreotype research being conducted at the University of Rochester has extended our ability to document the material characteristics of a daguerreotype. Our research has both profound preservation implications and interpretive significance for the historical record. Chester County Historical Society has entrusted the University to continue this research by lending its iconic daguerreotype of a young Frederick Douglass. During the period of hosting this daguerreotype, that will be celebrated as a homecoming, we hope to learn and validate its history as well as contribute to the long-term preservation of this national treasure.” – Ralph Wiegandt, Visiting research scientist and conservator.