The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair thrust the city into the global spotlight. For seven months, fair-goers experienced the latest achievements in technology, fine arts, manufacturing, science, civics, foreign policy and education. The fair also highlighted exhibits from 50 foreign countries and 43 of the then-45 states.
Making their mark at the fair were Emme and Mayme Gerhard, whose photographs of the indigenous people in the exhibits are some of their best-known works. Anthropologists at Chicago's Field Museum recognized the fair as an opportunity to gain valuable ethnographic photographs without expensive expeditions to the several countries represented. The sisters were part of a team of photographers hired to lend the museum their talents.
The Gerhards began their photography careers as young women. They studied for three years with Fitz W. Guerin, the best-known St. Louis portraitist and a photographer of staged scenes. When Guerin retired in January 1903, the Gerhards acquired his studio, claiming to be the first female-operated photograph business in the city.
The sisters figure among those who pioneered the "New Woman" idea of 1900. They shaped their own lives and, by doing so, helped make photography a profession for women.
The Library's Prints and Photographs Division has put together a reference aid on women photographers. Spanning from the 1800s to the 1990s, this resource offers an outline of the prominent and pioneering women working in the photojournalism field. The Prints and Photographs Division acquired its Gerhard holdings through copyright deposits and has more than 100 photos made between 1904 and the early 1920s, primarily their work with ethnic portraits at the St. Louis World's Fair and studio portraits from the 1910s.