As a knitter, I quickly snatched up this cabinet photo for my collection. You can see the sitter was holding a knitting project. I believe she was making a sock or a sleeve based on the fact that she was using a set of double pointed knitting needles that allowed her to knit in the round. This is sometimes referred to as circular knitting and it produces a seamless tube.
Julia Ann (nee Wilcox) Newell sat for this portrait by Louis Thiers in the mid to late 1880s. Unlike most individuals who traveled to a photography studio to have their picture taken, Julia had the photographer come to her home on Park Avenue in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
When Julia sat for her portrait, she was in her early 70s and a widow. Her husband, Theodore, who was in the lumber business, died in 1869 at the age of 59 years. The Newells were wealthy. In 1860, their estate was valued at $200,000 (over 6 million dollars in 2019.)
I don’t like the saying “money can’t buy you happiness,” because it absolutely can. A truer statement would be that “money can’t insulate you from sadness,” and the Newell’s wealth certainly did not prevent tragedy from striking.
Julia’s son, Douglas, was killed on May 20, 1863, during The Siege of Vicksburg in Mississippi. The Vicksburg battle which commenced on May 18 and ended with the confederates surrender on July 4, 1863, is said to be one of the turning points of the Civil War.
Look at the newspaper image above of Octavius Newell and how much he looked like his Mother! From all accounts, Octavius enjoyed great wealth and prominence. He served as Mayor of Kenosha. But, in the end, he died in a sanitarium while his wife and two youngest daughters were traveling the Orient.
Frederick, Julia’s third child, was said to be in “delicate health” which prevented him from continuing his education and pursuing all of the success he wished. However, he managed to amass a fortune, leaving a million dollar estate (about 29 million in 2019) to his wife upon his death at the age of 56 in 1901.
Frances Harriet Newell, Julia’s only daughter, met her end in 1913 during a pier collapse in Long Beach, California that killed 36 people. She and her traveling companion, who was also killed, were getting ready to embark on a trip around the world.
Julia lived to be older than her children or husband. She passed at the age of 83 and is buried in Kenosha in the Green Ridge Cemetery with her family.
And finally, look at the ghost image on the reverse of this cabinet photo. I think it looks like it may have been a picture of Julia when she was younger or possibly it’s of her daughter. I wish I would have found that photo as well.
Find A Grave
Taylor’s Battery Then
Various newspaper articles
Massachusetts vital records
California death index
Portrait and Biographical Album of Racine and Kenosha Counties, Wisconsin, by Lake City Publishing, 1892