Lazy Saturday Reads: Victorian Photo Tricks, Homeschooling Horrors, and Hillary and Boko Haram


Happy Saturday!!


This might turn out to be a strange post; I’m not really sure yet. I’m writing it somewhat in response to Dakinkat’s Friday offering. I was really taken with the images she used of Victorian women and babies with bat wings, so I decided to share some Victorian baby pictures I came across recently.

In addition, following on what Dak wrote about home-schooling, I have some articles on people who survived homeschooling horrors. I think it’s an outrage that child abuse like this is permitted in supposedly civilized countries. The government should not be kowtowing to fundamentalist Christian sects that engage in uncivilized behaviors. I’m still trying not to think too much about politics, but I have some follow-up info on Boko Haram and it’s use in the latest Hillary-bashing episode.

The Hidden Mother 


I originally saw these photos on Twitter (of course), but I found them so fascinating that I tried to find out a little more about them. You’ll notice in the photos at the top of this post that there are ghostly fabric things behind or beside the children. Those are the hidden mothers keeping their kids still for the slow-developing cameras of those days. Lots of the photos look really eerie, and they hardly ever show the children smiling.  Here’s an article from the Guardian from December 2013 that provides an introduction to the strange Victorian practice of “hidden mother” photography: The lady vanishes: Victorian photography’s hidden mothers.

Babies may be insatiably photogenic, but somehow they don’t really suit the whole business of photography. The flash makes them startle. They wriggle. They cry. They blink. You prop them up with cushions – and seconds later, they’re upside down gnawing their own toes. They make Dr Evil hand-signals. They fall asleep. They drool.

And if it’s bad now, it was worse then. Now we have cameraphones to record every last gurgle, but for the Victorians it was much more complicated. A 19th-century parent would have to dress the baby in a starchy gown, transport it and perhaps its siblings to the nearest photographer’s (orambrotypist’s) studio as early in the morning as possible, climb several flights of stairs to the skylit attic, arrange the family group against the studio backdrop, get everyone to remain completely still for 30 seconds or so, part with a large chunk of money, and then wait several days for the copies to be finished, before sending them round to family and friends as calling cards, or pasting them into albums.

The main problem was the length of the exposure. However bright the photographer’s studio, it took up to half a minute for an image to register on wet collodion. Getting an adult to sit completely still for half a minute is a challenge, but getting a wakeful baby to do so is near-impossible. The photographer could position anyone old enough to sit on a chair by placing an electric chair-style head clamp behind them, but the only way of photographing a baby was for the mother to hold it (or dope it with enough laudanum to keep a grown man rigid for a week).

hidden mother1

These photos recently came to light in a book called The Hidden Mother, by Linda Fregni Nagler

Though there are plenty of Victorian studio portraits of family groups, there are also many in which the mothers are concealed: they’re holding babies in place while impersonating chairs, couches or studio backdrops. They wanted a picture of just the baby, and this was the best way to achieve it. Sometimes, the figures are obvious, standing by the side of a chair and waiting to be cropped out later; sometimes, they really do appear as a pair of curtains or as disembodied hands. To a 21st-century viewer, the images look bizarre – all these unsmiling children strangled by smocking and framed by what appears to be a black-draped Grim Reaper, or by an endless succession of figures in carpets and chintz burqas.

The book also highlighted another weird Victorian practice–photographing the dead. Some of the children in the photos are dead.

Until the 1880s and the advent of mass-market photography, most people might only have a snapshot taken once in a lifetime. Since many children did die in infancy, the only memento the parents might have would be the single posthumous photograph of their baby propped up to look as if it was merely asleep.

It turns out that not just children were memorialized in photos after death. Below you can see a photographer taking a postmortem picture of a corpse propped up in a chair with eyes open.


Weird, huh? Sometimes they even painted in eyes to make the person look more alive. Another “Victorian photo trick” was “headless photographs.” Here’s an example:


You can read more about these strange Victorian photographic practices and see more examples at the following links.

Hyperallergic art blog: Victorian Photo Tricks, From Hidden Mothers to Eyes on the Dead (1/2014)

Daily Life: Why did mothers once conceal themselves in photographs?

Pinterest: Mothers, Photographs, and Memento Mori.

Flickr page, Hidden Mother: Tintypes and Cabinets




 Home Schooling Horrors

Again I came across this on Twitter. There’s apparently a Twitter group made up of home schooling survivors, and they were having some kind of home schooling awareness day awhile back to call attention to a law in Virginia that gives religious exemptions to parents who don’t want to send their kids to school. I started reading their descriptions of what they had experienced, and I was just horrified. I saved a few links at the time that I’ll share. From The Washington Post: Student’s home-schooling highlights debate over Va. religious exemption law.

Josh powell

Josh Powell wanted to go to school so badly that he pleaded with local officials to let him enroll. He didn’t know exactly what students were learning at Buckingham County High School, in rural central Virginia, but he had the sense that he was missing something fundamental.

By the time he was 16, he had never written an essay. He didn’t know South Africa was a country. He couldn’t solve basic algebra problems.

“There were all these things that are part of this common collective of knowledge that 99 percent of people have that I didn’t have,” Powell said.

Powell was taught at home, his parents using a religious exemption that allows families to entirely opt out of public education, a Virginia law that is unlike any other in the country. That means that not only are their children excused from attending school — as those educated under the state’s home-school statute are — but they also are exempt from all government oversight.

School officials don’t ever ask them for transcripts, test scores or proof of education of any kind: Parents have total control.

Powell’s family encapsulates the debate over the long-standing law, with his parents earnestly trying to provide an education that reflects their beliefs and their eldest son objecting that without any structure or official guidance, children are getting shortchanged. Their disagreement, at its core, is about what they think is most essential that children learn — and whether government, or families, should define that.

Josh’s story is heartbreaking and inspiring. The scariest thing about this law is that the children wishes are given no consideration at all. After years of struggle, Josh finally cobbled together an education managed to get accepted to Georgetown, but it was a long road and at the time of this article he still worried about his siblings who had not been able to escape the home schooling nightmare.

In 2008, Josh Powell wrote to Buckingham school officials, telling the board that he didn’t share his parents’ religious objections to public school and asking to enroll.

He said the administrator he spoke with was kindly but dismissive.

Crushed, he tried a home-school co-op for a while, then a class to study for a high-school equivalency test. “I figured if I can’t make any headway with my parents, can’t make any headway with the school board, what . . . am I going to do?” he said.

He Googled “financial aid” and applied to Piedmont Virginia Community College. A neighbor gave him a ride, an hour each way every day, until he had earned enough to afford an apartment nearby. It was terrifying, he said, as he was unsure how to behave in a classroom or whether he was going to embarrass himself answering questions. But he was thrilled.

“With the addition of lectures, the structure, the support, the tutoring — things just finally clicked. I remember my first semester sitting in my developmental math class. No one wanted to be there except for me. I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I have a chance to learn!’ ”

It’s a long article, but well worth reading in full. Here are a few more links for more info:

An interview with Josh Powell at NPR: Brother Wants Parents To Stop Siblings’ Homeschooling

Anthony B. Susan blog: It’s Time To Rethink Virginia’s Homeschool Laws.

A blog devoted to Homeschooling’s Invisible Children – “Shining a Light on Abuse and Neglect in Homeschooling Environments.”

It doesn’t just happen in the U.S. Some information on a homeschooling religious cult in Germany:

Der Spiegel: Life after the sect: “I have no roots and no strength to flyThe google translation is horrible, but you can read all about the Twelve Tribes cult here:

Yeshua Here I Am (Part 11, with links to parts 1-10).

Hillary Clinton and Boko Haram Follow-up

As I wrote on Thursday, the latest GOP attack on Hillary is over her supposed failure to deal with Nigeria’s Boko Haram when she was Secretary of State by adding them to the State Department’s list of terrorist groups. I’m not going to get deeply into this argument, because it just makes me tired; but here are a couple of in-depth treatments of the issues involved.

Tom Cohen at CNN: Clinton’s handling of Boko Haram questioned.

Howard LaFranchi at The Christian Science Monitor: Why Hillary Clinton’s State Dept. didn’t list Boko Haram as a terrorist group.

Chris McGreal at The Guardian UK: Nigeria kidnapping: why Boko Haram is a top security priority for the US

And from Mother Jones, a background article on Boko Haram: What is Boko Haram and Why Do Its Members Kidnap Schoolgirls?

So . . . What’s on your mind today? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.

32 Comments on “Lazy Saturday Reads: Victorian Photo Tricks, Homeschooling Horrors, and Hillary and Boko Haram”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Have a great weekend, everyone! it almost feels like summer here today.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    First Lady “outraged” at Nigeria girls’ abductions

    First lady Michelle Obama expressed “outrage” Saturday at the recent abduction of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, adding the U.S. was assisting the African nation in the effort to locate and return the children.

    “Like millions of people across the globe, my husband and I are outraged and heartbroken,” Obama said in the White House’s weekly address, which is usually delivered by the president.

    The first lady referred to Boko Haram — the Islamist extremist organization allegedly responsible for the kidnappings — as a “terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education,” adding the group was comprised of “grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls.”

    Powerful statement on video at link.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    NBA picks Dick Parsons as interim Clippers CEO

    NEW YORK — Dick Parsons is hoping for a short stint running the Los Angeles Clippers, though he’s ready to stay on as long as it takes.

    Moving the franchise away from Donald Sterling and to new ownership might require a lengthy fight, but it’s one Parsons thinks is worthwhile.

    “This is an issue that’s actually bigger than just the Clippers, bigger than just the NBA in my judgment,” Parsons said. “The whole world is kind of watching how, frankly, we as a country navigate our way through this crisis. So if I can help, I’m happy to try.”

    The NBA chose Parsons, the 66-year-old former Citigroup chairman and former Time Warner chairman and CEO, as interim CEO of the Clippers on Friday.

    “I think it’s a very good hire for us,” said Doc Rivers, Clippers coach and senior vice president of basketball operations.

    Parsons will oversee the management of the franchise and represent it at owners meetings while the league tries to force Sterling to sell following his lifetime ban for making racist remarks.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    Guitarist Jimmy Page Talks Berklee Honor, Boston Memories

    Amazing–he looks like a distinguished actor or author. Today he’s getting an honorary doctorate from Berklee School of Music and will give a speech. He talks about his first U.S. appearance with Led Zeppelin at the Boston Tea Party in 1969–45 years ago.

    “It sticks out because at the time, the first time we came through with Led Zeppelin, I think we played three hours that night because we were just playing anything that anybody knew,” Page recalled. “It was quite early on. We only had one album at that time. They just wouldn’t let us go. We just played some numbers that we played again in the early part, but it was quite amazing.”

    • bostonboomer says:

      OMG, am I really that old?

      Yes. Yes I am.

      • RalphB says:

        Indeed we may be, but it’s been a pretty good trip getting here.

      • Fannie says:

        I loved the Yardbirds……..and yes we are! I was going through a old suitcase, and found this old nylon power net, in other words, a girdle, remember the with the four snaps for nylon stockings. This was a ladies garment union made in USA, AFLCIO – they also matched up (colors) with the bras. It’s not an antique yet, it’s a oldie by goodie, and I wore these while dancing away to the yardbirds……….teehee.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    This is for Beata and any other Hoosiers who happen to stop by:

    Indiana Man, Brandon James Thompson, Arrested For John Boehner Threats

    A man in Indiana was arrested on Thursday night after allegedly threatening House Speaker John Boehner for delaying a vote on extending emergency unemployment insurance, UPI reported.

    Brandon James Thompson, 32, was taken into custody from home and faces charges for threats made via phone and email to an elected official.

    A man in Indiana was arrested on Thursday night after allegedly threatening House Speaker John Boehner for delaying a vote on extending emergency unemployment insurance, UPI reported.

    Brandon James Thompson, 32, was taken into custody from home and faces charges for threats made via phone and email to an elected official.

    Thompson admitted to using his neighbor’s wifi to send threatening messages to Boehner’s congressional website. He also left threatening voicemails on Debbie Boehner’s cell phone, according to an FBI affidavit.


    More crazy messages at the link.

  6. List of X says:

    Just this week, I read about a home-schooled girl who got a college degree at age 16 (
    So obviously, homeschooling isn’t always just a way to prevent children from getting an education, but there has to be accountability.

    • bostonboomer says:

      No, of course not. But there has to be oversight, and there usually isn’t.

      Frankly, though, I have serious problems with homeschooling anyway, because I think children need to be exposed to other kids and to mainstream culture as a whole.

      • List of X says:

        Yes, but it’s not as straightforward – exposing kids to others can lead to bullying, in some cases more than others. Not that the schools don’t have responsibility to end it, but school kids are just naturally not the most considerate beings on the planet.

        • bostonboomer says:

          No, nothing is straightforward, but again, I believe children need to have some rights. It should not be all about what the parents what; and that’s what it is about now.

        • RalphB says:

          You can say there are two sides to just about anything and the outcome is usually based on the individual families involved. Home schooling without some school district or state supervision is just an invitation for bad outcomes which would be preventable.

          At the very least home schoolers need to follow curriculum guidelines and be honestly evaluated but that invalidates the reasons given by some for home schooling in the first place. Teaching children garbage like the Earth is 6000 years old should not be allowed period.

  7. dakinikat says:

    The State department-under Hillary– put the three top leaders of Boko H on the terrorist list. The Republicans fail to mention this.

    The United States on Thursday named three alleged leaders of the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram as “foreign terrorists,” the first time it has blacklisted members of the Islamist group blamed for attacks across Africa’s most populous nation.

    The State Department identified the three as Abubakar Shekau, calling him the “most visible” leader of the group, and Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi, who it said were tied both to Boko Haram and to al Qaeda’s north African wing.

    “These designations demonstrate the United States’ resolve in diminishing the capacity of Boko Haram to execute violent attacks,” it said, saying that Boko Haram or associated militants were responsible for more than 1,000 deaths in the past 18 months. [Reuters, 6/21/12]

  8. dakinikat says:

    Teddy Kennedy talking to Liberty College which is now LIberty University. My icky governor is doing the graduation address there and it’s PanderFest as usual.

    Gov. Bobby Jindal plans to tell graduates at Virginia’s Liberty University Saturday that “Christians are the last group that it is OK to discriminate against in America.”

  9. bostonboomer says:

    Pelosi: GOP needed special Benghazi panel to silence Issa

    The Democratic leader argued Friday that GOP leaders created the select committee to silence House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose months-long probe into the tragedy has come under scrutiny, even by some top Republicans.
    “Issa just is damaged goods,” Pelosi said during a Friday press briefing in the Capitol. “They had to move from him to another venue with another chairman. That’s what this is.”

  10. RalphB says:

    Better late than never so; Happy Mother’s Day to all.

    • NW Luna says:

      Uhhh…..Isn’t that tomorrow? (Tomorrow by PDT; today by blog timezone) So you’re early, Ralph!