Deep Diving with Gertrude Belle-Oudry, part 1 of 5

No scuba gear necessary …

When Lee and I are working on the Early Women Artisan Photographers project, we will often talk about doing a “deep dive” on a photographer — finding out as much as we can about her and her life. Sometimes people will ask us how we do our research, so I thought it would be fun to document one such deep dive. I chose Gertrude, as I’ll explain in a moment, and then wrote down as I went along what I was doing and some thoughts about what I was finding as I found it. I spent 3 (oops 4 oops again: 5!) non-consecutive days, so I’ll split up the “action” into a series of posts.

Day 1

To start with, I needed to choose a photographer to do the deep dive on. Often I’ll choose one because I’ve come across a particularly intriguing news story. Other times I’ll pick one who has an unusual name, because it is generally easier to do the searches for unusual names. Finding the right “Miss Smith” can be tricky. Yet another strategy I have is to pick someone we have a photo by, since we especially like knowing something about the people who took the photos in our collection. This is the strategy I took in this case, since we have a photo by “Belle-Oudry” in Oakland and Berkeley, California, and we didn’t have much information about her.

photo by Belle-Oudry studio

I’m not completely sure how we came across Gertrude Belle-Oudry in the first place, but I probably happened to see her name when I was looking at the 1916 Oakland-Berkeley city directory for someone else. That happens fairly frequently (and it happened while I was doing this deep dive on Gertrude — it’s funny how we’re on a first name basis with some of these photographers, but not others, for example Mrs. Vreeland is always Mrs. Vreeland. In her case I think it’s because her branding is always “Mrs. Vreeland”).

Taking stock of the information we have to start with (I’m shifting into the narrative present for effect), we have this information from that 1916 directory listing of photographers:

  • Gertrude M. Belle-Oudry, studio at 2627 Telegraph Ave
  • Her husband Edouard Belle-Oudry is listed in Oakland at 1121 Washington

Our photo just says “Belle-Oudry, Oakland, CA and Berkeley”, so we don’t know which studio it was taken in, or who took it (or when, for that matter). All we know is that the photo is connected to Gertrude. (While we prefer to have a photo taken by the woman, sometimes it’s impossible to know whether she took it or now.)

Belle-Oudry studio stamp logo

In addition to the directory listing, we have 4 newspaper clippings, with nothing directly about Gertrude:
  • 1903-07-15 A.C. Dames and William Arrowsmith are applying to lift an injunction by E. Belle-Oudry against using the trademark “Photographic [sic. really Photographie] Parisienne”
  • 1904-10-07 Dames and Arrowsmith are awarded small damages in a countersuit against E. Belle-Oudry. The original suit by Edouard was dismissed.
  • 1909-01-10 Society photo by Belle-Oudry Photo (next to one by Arrowsmith)
  • 1923-09-16 Short obituary for Edouard. He has a widow, but she is not named
So my here’s my initial strategy:
  • Look for census info on and FamilySearch
  • Look for birth, marriage, death information, including FindAGrave
  • Try to find information via newspapers clippings about Gertrude’s career and life
  • Look for more directory listings, but photographers and in the people section
  • General web search
  • Check the Palmquist database on women photographers
  • If she is interesting, look for more photos on eBay
  • Who is A.C. Dames? (we know that William Arrowsmith is a man)

In small to medium size towns, the photographers are often in the social notices, which can give us lots of information about them. However, a potential challenge in researching Gertrude is that Oakland/Berkeley is a big enough area that the social notices may be limited mainly to the upper class. We’ll see.

I’m going to start with the Palmquist database which is at the Beineke Library at Yale University (I actually have done my own version of it which I can access on my laptop). Peter Palmquist was an amazing researcher, and an early advocate of women photographers. He did a tremendous amount of research, mostly in the pre-digital days. We still can’t fathom how he managed to accomplish so much, publishing numerous books, by reading microfilm and old paper directories. For more about him, check out Lee’s podcasts devoted to him.

I thought it would be quick and easy, but in fact, we have our first mystery. There are three relevant entries:

  1. Mrs Emma Belle-Oudry, Oakland. b. c. 1835. Active c. 1898-1911
  2. Mrs Gertrude Belle-Oudry, Berkeley. 1881-1953. Active 1903-1950
  3. Oudry, E. Belle

Number 3 isn’t helpful, since it doesn’t have any other information, and it’s probably the same as Number 1. But who is Emma Belle-Oudry? It can’t be a coincidence, another EWAP having the same last name as Gertrude (and Edouard).

Lee suggests looking in the Palmquist book A Directory of Women in California Photography: 1900-1920, which we just happen to have … Darn! Peter’s already found a bunch of info about both Emma and Gertrude. However, he attributes some articles in Wilson’s Photographic Magazine to Emma, but they are just “E. Belle-Oudry” c. 1911, which is probably Edouard, not Emma, since she would have been 76 then. I’ll check later. So add that to the To Do list.

It’s a little disappointing that Peter beat us to the story, but Lee encourages me to keep going, and I do still want to be complete for our records.

Let me knock off another couple “easy” ones from the list. I check eBay – I do find one Belle-Oudry, but it’s an expensive lot of pictures of soldiers, so I’ll pass on that one. Maybe something else will show up another time.

I’ll do a quick look for “A. C. Dames”. Ah, it turns out that is Adelia C. Dames, and Lee had already done a bit of research about her.

I’m going to regroup before tackling the rest of the list …

Posted in EWAP