Helen’s Photo Album, 1923

This is Helen Ambrose. In 1923 her sister, Emily, made a photo album for her with photos of their family and friends. It’s nice knowing the names of many of the people pictured, and also the places, though I came up empty when searching online for Helen.  Most of the photos that are labeled were taken in Hinsdale, Illinois or Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I bought this album for several reasons, the main one being that it shows Helen in quite a bit of her wardrobe, so that you can get a good sense of her style. We can start with her dark cotton knickers and matching sports shirt. Even better, we get a good look at her canvas shoes and hat.

She must have liked this sport ensemble, as she is wearing it in quite a few of the photos, and seemingly at different times. Here she is shown wearing it with a different hat. The object of her attention is Harold Reynders. He is a regular cast member in this year of Helen’s life.

This photo was taken on the same day at the same location, a golf club in Villa Park, Illinois. It must have been a very informal place to have allowed a woman to play in pants, or maybe they just mistook her for a boy!

There are also photos of Helen wearing her knickers with a middy blouse. Note that she has not yet bobbed her hair, even though she seems comfortable wearing pants in public. In all the photos she is wearing this same hairstyle with the coils at the sides. It gave long hair the look of being short, but it looks a bit old-fashioned for 1923.

Many of the photos are of various members of the extended Ambrose family, including these two little unnamed cousins.

And here’s the middy with a skirt. The skirt does seem a little long for a young woman in 1923, but the year before, skirts lengths did take a move toward the floor. They then began the upward journey to the knee, a length most associated with the 1920s.

Helen is wearing a suit that appears to have been made from jersey, possibly cotton. She’s seen wearing it a lot, and with good reason – she looks great in it. I love the scalloped edge of her collar, and the dark tie around her neck.

Here she is in another suit, this time with a blouse and vest. And note how the hem on this skirt is just a bit shorter than the others. Could Helen have been a teacher? She looks a bit too polished to be a schoolgirl.

The album is quite fragile, and the white ink Emily used to label the photos is fading badly. That’s Helen, Emily, and a friend, Iva. On the right in the wonderful, but unfortunately unflattering, dress is Aunt Em and a possible uncle.

This is Grandmother and Daisy. I’m guessing that Daisy is the child and not the cat, but I could be wrong. I have a strong suspicion that Grandmother never did shorten her skirts.

This photo was not labeled, and I don’t think it is Helen. It does illustrate an interesting tidbit I read in an article in a 1975 American Heritage magazine:

“There was an enormous number of surplus sailor hats at the end of WWI, and soon “Army & Navy” stores were swamped with them. They made good fishing hats, tennis hats, and headgear for general lounging; but pretty girls also discovered that something about a sailor hat, perched atop vagrant curls and hovering over big blue eyes, was irresistible.”

In this case the entire ensemble was appropriated.

Finally, there are some swimming photos, taken at Reed’s Lake, which I think is near Grand Rapids. The bathing suits are great, but it’s their caps that I covet.

And check out the boathouse. A lake near me has one such boathouse remaining from this era, and it is now a historic landmark.

I really don’t want to get into the business of collecting photo albums, but sometimes I come across one that illustrates the times so well that I can’t resist. It’s really a shame that this has been separated from family members who would treasure the contents, but we can honor Helen’s life by letting her teach us about her life and fashions in 1923.


Filed under 1920s fashion, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Vintage Photographs

19 responses to “Helen’s Photo Album, 1923

  1. Emily Kitsch

    What a wonderful find!! I loved reading this post and seeing Helen and all of her amazing outfits – I especially adore her little sailor outfit! So adorable! She seems like she must have been a really cool young woman. It’s too bad we have no way of knowing more about her.

    Thank you so much for this post!! I love vintage photographs and used to collect them, but I’ve never come across a whole photo album!


  2. We have a shop here that’s an combo artist’s studio/gallery and vintage photos gallery collected by a friend of the artist. It’s called Spot 22 in Easthampton, MA. Lots of people love vintage photos and I can see why you liked this one because of Helen and her clothes/activities.


  3. Really enjoyed viewing these wonderful images, Lizzie. Helen was most charming!


  4. Grace

    These photos are great! I’ve just searched and found Helen and family on the 1910-1930 censuses but didn’t find her later. Here she is with her family in 1930, working as an engineering stenographer: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XSGL-378, in 1920: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MJWL-QHZ, and in 1910: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MKZW-XXF


  5. I am pretty sure I found your Helen, and her sister Emily, in the 1920 US Census. Helen was 15 years old at the time of the census and Emily was 13 years old. Helen’s father, Dominick, was born in Ohio and her mother, Julia, was born in Mexico. If you want to see the census record I can send it to you.


  6. …and I found a Harold Reynders in Grand Rapids MI in the 1920 census and 1930 census. He was married to an Emily (older than Helen’s sister) by 1940.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That should have been in the 1910 census and the 1930 census (can’t find a way to edit comments). I am looking for him in 1920.


  8. jacq staubs

    Reconfirming ! As I have posted my family photos look the same! The sailor mdi top is the same and the long matronly dress on the grandmother as well. Time frame must have been early 2o’s. I base that on my Great Grandfather-untimely passing 1925. My g Aunts/Grandmother were in college . I remember them telling me certain dresses ( ready to wear) had names. As in “Gibson”. The photos of them were taken by their father. Trendies? Almost immediately -photos show – it all changed! Short skirts-bobbed hair-and they were driving before 1925.


  9. This album, and its storyfull photos, has truly fallen into the best possible hands.


  10. Wow–crowd sourcing! How wonderful that we can now find records of this family’s life, all from the comfort of our homes. And what an interesting document of one young woman’s life in the twenties. I wonder what the grandmother thought of it all.


  11. What a great find! She reminds me a little bit of my paternal grandmother–lots of sporty fashions. Reeds Lake is actually in Grand Rapids (well, East Grand Rapids) and was once the site of a big amusement park called Ramona Park that drew many famous performers (and according to Andy, Chicago gangsters). The Wiki page for it has some info and postcard pics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramona_Park


  12. I hope some of the VT blogfans can find out what happened to Helen.


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