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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Ethel M. Smith

Dates:  1886 - 1964
Born:  US, WI, Chippewa Falls
Died:  US, MN, Minneapolis

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Ethel M. Smith
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Ethel M. Smith was born in 1886, in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. She made her way west to Minneapolis and graduated from the University of Minnesota with honors. According to a relative, she had a twin sister and held many different jobs, including one at General Mills. From 1933 to 1946, she taught at the Miller Vocational High School. Her brother, Elmer H. Smith, also was a pictorialist, exhibiting in the Minneapolis salon in 1940 and 1942.
Smith, who used a 3 1/4-x-4 1/4-inch Graflex, photographed dolls and children (both Caucasian and Black) exclusively and became the most known woman pictorialist from Minneapolis. When she joined the Minneapolis Photographic Society, she was living in a building of large apartments on Blaisdell Avenue, only about five blocks from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. She served as the club’s vice president in 1938 and the next year as its secretary. Later, after moving to her own house, she hosted many of the society’s regular monthly meetings.
Smith competed and exhibited for about ten years, beginning around 1936. She won at least six honorable mentions in the annual contests of the magazine American Photography, and she frequently also took awards at her own club. Judges for photographic salons in Cincinnati and Memphis accepted her work, as did those in Minneapolis, almost every year between 1936 and 1948. Other local venues for her included the 1941 Spring Salon, sponsored by the Gopher Camera Club and hung at the Walker Art Center, and the 1946 and 1947 Minnesota Statewide Salon, sponsored by the Minneapolis YMCA Camera Club. One of her pictures of a child, titled Alice in Wonderland, had a particularly strong exhibition record. The back of the museum’s print sports no less than twenty-two labels, including camera clubs in Alabama, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Many publications reproduced her photographs. The American Annual of Photography included them four times, in 1940, 1944, 1945, and 1947. American Photography featured her doll pictures as cover images in April 1945 and December 1946, as did the March 1944 issue of Camera. Ina E. Lindsley used Smith’s images for articles she wrote for children’s magazines, and the two of them collaborated on Holiday in Doll-Land, an undated booklet that was probably self-published. This title comprises twelve double-page spreads, one for each month of the year. Smith’s tabletop images depict dolls with such props as flags, flowers, and fish. Lindsley’s brief text, combining prose and verse, humanize the dolls by naming them and describing their actions.
The April 1964 issue of thePSA Journal ran a one-sentence obituary on Smith, indicating that she had joined the pictorial division of the Photographic Society of America in 1941 and suggesting she died in Minneapolis. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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