Photo Detective: Petal Pushers

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

Every photo question is a little different. Take this one, for instance: Sonya Tootle’s relatives told her the boy in the front is her great-grandfather Herbert Seymour Scholes (born in 1909). This is a likely identification, but what’s curious about this picture is the flowers. All but one of the women pinned a blossom to her blouse near her heart.

Confirming the time frame for this family portrait, taken in Lancashire, England, is easy. One woman wears a polka-dot dress with a spread collar; the rest wear two-piece outfits of blouses and calf-length skirts. The little girls look pretty in their summer white dresses. Even the family dog made it (that’s the blur jumping into the lap of the older seated woman on the left). The two men look so much alike, they’re definitely brothers. The little boy in the front wears a suit and a soft collar. There are similar-style outfits in a small English publication, Everyday Fashions of the 20th Century by Avril Landsdell (Shire Publications, $24). Based on the clothing, this picture dates from the WWI era.

Scholes had two sisters—Winifred (born in 1899) and Alice (born in 1904). It’s unclear which of the girls in the picture are Alice and Winifred, although they’re likely sitting next to their brother in the front row. In this picture taken around 1914, Herbert Scholes is approximately 5 years old and his sisters would be 10 and 15. For Tootle, positively identifying her great-grandfather is key to figuring who else is in this charming picture.

Relatives only identified Scholes, not the reason for this image. I’ve seen other portraits from this period of women with flowers, but the reason for the ones in this picture is unknown. In Victorian times, flowers symbolized feelings (see Language of Flowers), but these women selected a variety of blossoms.

Were these flowers an impulsive choice for a family portrait in a garden? Or are they worn to signify a family milestone? This is one picture mystery that may never be solved. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them—send me an email.