This portrait of Ida Mathis Johnson, wife of Cumberland, Md. physician Dr. James Thomas Johnson (see previous post) was taken at a Towles Studio. Brothers Clarence O. and William H. Towles owned two studios, one in Frostburg and one in Cumberland, ca. 1899-1901; they both had moved to Washington, DC ca. 1910.
According to a 1923 biographical sketch of Dr. James T. Johnson, the couple married in 1896. While the sketch gives her home at the time as Philadelphia, census and passport records indicate Ida, or “Lidie,” Mathis, was born 24 August 1872 in Tuckerton, Burlington County, New Jersey, to farmer Shreve B. Mathis and Elizabeth King Mathis.
Before her marriage, Ida Mathis was superintendent of Western Maryland Hospital, an impressive job for a woman in 1895 (Directory of Cumberland and Allegany County 1895-1896). Her work explains how she must have met her future husband. Mathis graduated from the nursing school at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia, in 1891 (American Journal of Nursing, v. 10, 1910)—at the time, one of the most highly respected nurse training centers in the country.
The Mathis family history is well-documented by Joyce Kintzel. The family traced its descent from Welsh immigrant John Mathews and Quaker Alice Andrews. Based in Bass River, “Great” John Mathis became one of the dominant landowners and businessmen in southern new Jersey, believed to have owned about 5,000 acres there by the American Revolution. The Mathis family burial ground in Chestnut Neck, New Jersey, as well as Greenwood Cemetery and the Friends burial ground, hold the remains of family members.
Ida’s distinctive hairstyle helps date her portrait. According to Joan Severa’s Dressed for the Photographer, This top-knot style was fashionable for a short time ca. 1896. The sleeve style also aids in dating: A sleeve with unsupported shoulder puff atop a tight lower arm followed the “collapse” of the exaggerated, broad leg o’mutton sleeve of the mid 90s. I’m going to take a stab at a guess of ca. 1896-1898 for a portrait date.
She holds the tip of her feather or fur boa in her left hand, perhaps to bring attention to an engagement ring.