June 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 4
When the daughters of James A. Drake were born, in the 1880’s, Queen Victoria was on the throne of England, and she and her brood of nine were the first family to the world at large. A fond mama who is said to have filled a hundred and ten albums with family photographs, she has survived in our memories as a ruler with very strict ideas about how people should comport themselves. In her long shadow the Drakes were raised to be as foursquare as the mounting block little Dort and her aunt Harriet Cole are standing on (opposite) in front of Grandfather Walker’s house in Corning, New York. But by the time Dort had become the Gibson girl at right, the family of Teddy Roosevelt dominated the popular imagination. His six children, all distinct characters, were encouraged in their antics by the President, who joined them in romps, pillow and water fights, wrestling, and hikes. “For unflagging interest and enjoyment,” he said, “a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison.” There were still families who needed children’s economic contributions on the farm or in factories and worked their offspring as though they were grim little grownups. However, increasingly prosperous middle-class families were finding more and more time to devote to child rearing. Along with the usual cautions about propriety, gentility, and obedience, deportment books began to include sections on children’s parties and instructive play. It is this spirit of pleasant ferment and change that Isabel Drake captured on film and exemplified in her own life: respect for each child’s personality and the solidity of family life. Many of her photos were developed and printed at home on blueprint paper, and it is this nostalgic blue that we have tried to suggest in the present selection.