SOLVED! American Flag Mystery: Old Glory in an Old Photo

SOLVED! American Flag Mystery: Old Glory in an Old Photo

Find out who's in this American flag photo update. Thanks to a reader, our Photo Detective uncovers more about the women pictured.

Mystery Solved!

Our American flag photo mystery update! A big thank you to June Thomazin for sending me an article, “Mardi Gras Ball” from the Washington Times of February 11, 1917! The article lists the names of the women in the tableau imitating Henry Mosler’s painting, The Birth of the Flag. In the last article, I mentioned the seated woman’s light colored shoe as being from circa 1917. Seeing the date of the article made me smile.

According to the article, as the “Star Spangled Banner” played, the women re-enacted this scene for the third annual Mardi Gras ball of the Washington Camp, No. 305, Sons of Confederate Veterans. The four women were identified in the newspaper as Mrs. Andrew H. Plant, Mrs. Maud[e] Howell Smith, Mrs. George S. Covington and Mrs. Paul L. Joachim. But who were these women?

Who’s Who

Mystery solved! Find out who's in this American flag photo update.

Let’s start by putting the women in order by their ages in 1917, then comparing that information to the collage/picture: Elmina Joachim, 30; Maud Howell Smith, 41; Mary Elizabeth Plant, 54; Janet Dorsey Covington, 55. (Only Maud Howell Smith used her own name, the rest went by their husband’s names, as was common. If you’ve ever researched female ancestors who did the same, then you know finding their first names can be a challenge.)

A                             B                           C                        D

Mystery solved! Find out who's in this American flag photo update.

The two women on the left of the picture (and to the left in the collage) are the oldest so they are likely Janet Covington and Mary E. Plant.

The youngest woman (far right ) in both the collage and the picture must be Elmina Joachim.

The woman in the center could be Maud[e] Howell Smith.

First and Maiden Names Discovered

Hours (whew!) after searching GenealogyBank.com, FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com (as well as Google), I was able to find a bit more about these women:

Mrs. George S. Covington (A) was the former Janet Dorsey (1862-1941).

Mrs. Andrew H. Plant (B) was a problem due to a misprint. In fact, her husband’s name was Alfred. (Double-check those newspaper articles before accepting the details as fact!) Their daughter Olive, crowned the queen of the carnival, solved that case. Mrs. Plant was the former Mary Elizabeth Bond (1863-1942), born in Connecticut.

Mrs. Paul Joachim (D) was the youngest of the four, born in Georgia in 1887. Her first name was Elmina.

A Remarkable Woman

Maud[e] Howell Smith (1876-1966) was a remarkable woman (C). She rejected using her husband Eli’s name at a time when husbands defined women’s lives. Her name frequently appeared in the society pages for Washington, D.C. In her later years, she acted in amateur theater. The Sunday Star (Washington, D.C.) of Jan. 4, 1953, interviewed her in an article, “Theater’s Grand Old Lady Has a New Role.”

She had wanted to pursue a professional career as an actress, but her parents objected. Instead, she supported local theater groups and later lived her dream of being on the stage in amateur productions. She drove an ambulance during World War I. She claimed in the article to have known every president since Benjamin Harrison. In 1953, she served on the Eisenhower Inaugural Committee.

Her advice in the interview is timeless: “It’s all very well to talk about what you’ve done in the past, but as a rule if you do too much of this, it means you aren’t doing enough today.”

Mystery solved! Find out who's in this American flag photo update.
Maud[e] Howell Smith as “Columbia,” 1919.

“It’s all very well to talk about what you’ve done in the past, but as a rule if you do too much of this, it means you aren’t doing enough today.” – Maude Howell Smith

We are thrilled to be able to present this American flag photo update! The intersection of history, family history and photography all came together in this picture. Lovely!


Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor: