Sunday, November 1, 2015

More Sabine Passport Photos

I did a little more passport research the other day, and found even better versions of Janet and Ruth's photos, so I had to show you. These are the best photos of them that I have. These 1916 passport records seem to have been digitally reproduced rather than photocopied like the other two versions I've seen:

Janet, age 13, is above. Ruth, age 10, is below. These images are a little dark, so their big hair bows aren't visible, but I think the toning of their faces could hardly be better. They look so alive ad contemporary, and their features brim with personality and intelligence. I wonder if these were their school photos; they look like they are wearing school outfits.

Naturally, I went paging through the nearby records hoping to find similarly eloquent photos of their parents. I have seen very few images of any of the family and they are all formal studio shots. I managed to turn up two new but poor-quality images of Professor and Dr. Sabine. Perhaps there are better versions somewhere. I'll keep digging. (Along the way, I saw lots of really interesting portraits of other passport applicants. I think I'll go back and choose a few to show you one of these days.)

But in the meantime, here's Wallace Clement Sabine, Harvard physicist, father of the science of acoustics, and former owner of my condo building, at about age 48. It's impossible to tell anything from this badly photocopied image except that he had strong features and thinning hair:

Below is a studio portrait taken two years later, in 1918, in the weeks or months before he died, as it says. He was quite ill that year but kept to a punishing schedule of travel and war work in several countries. Then he continued to overdo it when he returned to America after the war, spending part of each week in Washington while teaching full-time at Harvard. His family barely saw him. 

It's hard for me to see any signs of his illness in this photo, but those who knew him remarked that he generally looked unwell. He was a true stoic, suffering pain and exhaustion in silence. He refused to do a single thing to make his life less difficult.

Dr. Jane Kelly Sabine's 1916 passport photo took me aback. She is about 52 in this photo:

Her hair. Her pince-nez. Her high-necked dress. Her downturned mouth. Compared to the majority of passport photos I've seen from that time, this is a doozy. She strikes me as out-of-date (for 1916), grim, worried, and elderly — although I bet she was none of those things. She doesn't look like the mother of such lively young girls, but she was a wonderful, energetic mama to them. (As happens these days with mothers who have their kids in their late 30s to 40s, I wonder if strangers assumed that Jane was their grandmother, since she easily could have been at her age.)

Let's assume that she was having a very bad photo day. I have them myself continually. Always. I can sympathize. Here's a photo of Jane taken two years later, in 1918:

In this portrait, you can find strength and sharp intelligence in her face. Although she isn't smiling, her mouth and eyes suggest gentleness and sympathy. I'd be glad to have her as my doctor. 

It occurs to me that watching her husband essentially kill himself by neglecting his health over months and years must have been excruciatingly difficult and painful for her, especially since she was a doctor herself and knew all the ramifications of his behavior. No one could tell him anything; if they tried, he said nothing and left the room. No wonder her hair was pure white.

Note that she never changed her hairstyle — a quick, practical twist — since at least her engagement photo 18 years earlier:

Honestly, her passport photo scared me. I'm a few years older than she was in that picture. I still wear my hair in the same style as when I was married 17 years ago (when it isn't twisted into a little bun even simpler than hers). But my hair looks about the same color it was in my 30s (thank you, L'Oreal).

Hair dye certainly was game-changing for women in the 20th century. Now that we can be brunette or blonde centenarians, we can sometimes fool people about our age — especially ourselves. When I look at Jane's 1918 studio portrait, I realize that women today rarely aim for her look of silver-haired gravitas. We want to look vibrant and full of beans whatever our age. Even when we embrace having gray hair in our 40s and beyond, we want it to look great — stylish and, well, premature.

I've been thinking recently about letting my gray grow in, partly because hair-dye chemicals are scary and because coloring is a nuisance. But I've examined my roots now that I'm several weeks in, and don't like what I see: ashy ("dishwater") brown mixed with streaks of drab iron-gray and some white. It's not "me." Not yet, anyway. I think I'll wait until the silver comes in more uniformly and prettily. I'm not ready to be that honest about my age just yet.

Comparing my situation with hers, I tried to reassure myself that I'm not "matronly" like Jane, even though I'm her senior. Surely my extreme emotional and financial immaturity has also given me a more youthful appearance? (I honestly feel like a kid lately — a kid who has made a series of stupid, costly mistakes and hopes to outgrow this tendency ASAP.) There has to be some benefit to being an idiot.

But I can't help noticing that I share a few things with Jane — low-maintenance "style" with glasses, easy up-dos, and reluctance to stay current with the times. So, in a couple of years, when I need a new passport photo, I will take a lesson from her. I will let my hair down and switch my pince-nez (or tortoiseshell equivalents) for my contact lenses. I'll try to show a few teeth in an easy smile. I'll choose a shirt that shows a seemly amount of neck instead some Quakerish, high-necked black thing. (Today's version of her look is a turtleneck, of course... and, good heavens, I live in those.)

I doubt I'll ever be wise or sensible enough to rock the silver-and-stately look as she's doing, so I'm not even going to try. 

1 comment:

  1. I think one of the loveliest aspects of living in an older home is the history it carries with it. So rarely, though, are we privy to such fascinating history as you've found with the Sabines. It's been lovely reading these posts--as long as you keep sharing photos of your Fabulous Five. :) (Perhaps someday some thoughtful, historically-minded person will discover evidence that once there lived in the building a famous blogger, her professor husband, and numerous cats whose capers were broadcast around the world…)


Spam goes right into the trash but I appreciate relevant comments from non-spammers (and I can always tell the difference). I do my best to follow up if you have a question. ALL spam, attempts to market other websites, and anything nasty or unintelligible gets deleted instantly. The cats and I thank you for reading — and please feel free to comment on what you read.