Mystery Photo: McDowell Sisters

This old cabinet card photo, for sale on eBay, was shot in Duluth. Several details are provided, but some mysteries persist.

The corner of the card is torn off, so we only know that the Duluth-based photography studio responsible for the image was the something Brothers.

Writing on the back of the card tells us the gals in the photo are “sisters of McDowell family,” identifying them from left to right as: “Mama, Aunt Stella Page, Tressie McDowell, Aunt Dora and Aunt Maude Johnson. Since the photo is likely more than a century old, even little Tressie is almost certainly deceased. Did any of these McDowell sisters leave more of a historical mark on Duluth than this image? Well, that’s our primary mystery.



about 9 months ago

I did some looking yesterday in City Directories and on Ancestry, but didn't find much clearly about this family. Perhaps they were just visiting Duluth from elsewhere for their photo.


about 9 months ago

The photographer was likely Boyer Bros, based on this other card with similar script.


about 9 months ago

I was a bit haphazard in my search, so information is just a sketch:

The family had a farm in Olivet, Wis. Parents were named William and Mary McDowell. William served in the Civil War and was in a POW camp in Arkansas. I haven't looked through the directories, but if they lived in the Twin Ports at all, I'm betting it was in Superior, and only briefly.

The whole family including grandparents appears to have moved to Portland Oregon circa 1900, where daddy became a logger. (These girls also had at least two brothers, William and Clarence.)  Essie McDowell McCollum is the "Mama" in this photo, born 1867, died 1919. Stella was born in 1882 and married Henry Joseph Page in Superior right before they all moved; he was a painter. Maude McDowell Johnson was born in 1878 and died in 1941. Dora Belle McDowell McDougall married a man who drove a laundry truck. Tressa/Tressie McDowell Simonsen was born in 1890, married Dalles Simonsen, who eventually became a newspaper editor in Washington state.

Paul Lundgren

about 9 months ago

According to the Archive of Early Minnesota Photographers on the Shadows & Light website, the Boyer Brothers were Norwegian immigrants Hans R. Boyer, Henry Boyer and Robert H. Boyer. They had studios at 428 Ogden Avenue in Superior and 209 W. Superior St. in Duluth beginning around 1888. 

Over the years that followed they had other partners and locations. The Directory of Minnesota Photographers lists the studio names Boyer Brothers & Rose, Larss & Boyer Brothers and Lennes & Boyer, and offers the addresses 211 W. Superior St. and 22 W. Superior St., noting also that at the end of their careers, circa 1909, the studio location was 102 W. Superior St. over a 5- and 10-cent store.

Leave a Comment

Only registered members can post a comment , Login / Register Here

Read previous post:
Selective Focus: Brittany Plachecki

Applying their studies in art history, excitement for horror and queer theory, Brittany Plachecki creates colorful character designs. One of...