Faces of Brewster

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EXCERPTS FROM THE CARO A. DUGAN DIARY courtesy of the Brewster Ladies Library (opens to a new page) >>

Introduction to the Collection

In 1970 Beulah Doane gifted her son Donald Doane’s collection of over 400 turn-of-the-century photographic glass plate negatives to The Brewster Historical Society. The images are predominantly of Brewster, taken between 1887 and 1914, some by Caro A. Dugan, great granddaughter of Brewster shipmaster Elijah Cobb, and some by Cornelius Chenery, a frequent boarder in the Cobb’s Brewster home. (Mr. Chenery’s Brewster glass plate negatives were deeded to Ms. Dugan in his will). As is often the case with collections such as this, in their travels through time photographer’s envelopes are often separated from the negatives, at times making it difficult to match photographer to image. To add to the confusion, there appears to have been a student-teacher relationship (and according to family oral tradition, a romantic one as well) between the two photographers; Ms. Dugan has replicated some of Mr. Chenery’s photographs so that we occasionally possess two plates – one by each artist – of the same scene. Proper artistic credit of some of these images being left in question, we have therefore labeled them “photographer unknown.” Some of the people, too, remain unidentified; only recently was “an unknown Cape Cod gentleman” identified by one of our members as Captain Warren Lincoln. The Society hopes that in presenting this exhibit to the public we might solve another mystery or two.

The Photographers

Cornelius Chenery was born April 26, 1844 in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, the son of John and August A (Whittemore) Chenery. In 1862 he enlisted to fight in the Civil War and was mustered out in 1863. In 1867 he enrolled in Harvard University, the class of 1871, but dropped out his junior year. In 1870 he married the thirty-three year-old Mary Fuller; he was at that time a music teacher in Boston. A daughter, Blanche, was born to the couple in 1872; she died in 1877. In 1873 Mr. Chenery joined the Young Men’s Christian Union, a club formed by Harvard students in 1851 as a religious study group; he was a member of their camera club until he died. The Harvard Commentary reported him employed for twelve years as a choir master and leader of choral societies, appearing many times on the concert stage. The Commentary also recounts two different trips to Europe for study, in 1884 and 1890, but in between, in 1888, he visited Brewster, boarding with the Dugans. (That same summer the eight-year-old Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan were also staying in Brewster, and Mr. Chenery took the now famous photograph of the little girl with her doll). We don’t know how many return trips Mr. Chenery made to Brewster, but we do know he took photographs there in 1891, 1910, and 1912. According to Chenery family accounts a romantic relationship developed between the two photographers, and the bequest to Ms. Dugan of his photographic plates and other personal items would certainly indicate a strong connection of some kind. The 1900 census lists Mr. Chenery as divorced and living with his brother in Boston.

The Harvard Commentary sums up Mr. Chenery’s contribution to the visual arts with this understatement: “[He] was a member of the Camera Club of Boston, and devoted considerable attention to photography.” Mr. Chenery died in 1920 following complications from an injury sustained in an accident.

Caroline Atherton Dugan was born March 26, 1853, to James and Helen (Cobb) Dugan, in Brewster, Massachusetts, in the home built by Ms. Dugan’s great grandfather, the renowned shipmaster Elijah Cobb. (This house still sits, looking much as it did 100 years ago, at 739 Lower Road). Ms. Dugan’s father died when she was still a child, and her mother began to take in summer boarders to augment her income. In 1888 Cornelius Chenery arrived with the Parks family to board with the Dugans; this was not his only visit to Brewster, and evidence exists in the glass plates left behind that at the very least a close student/teacher relationship existed between them, if not a relationship of another kind. Ms. Dugan kept a lively and colorful diary that recounts her life during the years 1873 to 1878, but the record grows sparse once the diaries were put aside. We do know she trained as a kindergarten teacher but did not continue in that field. We also know that after the death of her mother, Ms. Dugan left Cape Cod. The 1900 census records list her as living in Brookline, Massachusetts, serving as governess to the five children of Henry and Margaret Whitney (Mr. Chenery was also in Boston at this time). Josephine Whitney Duveneck, Ms. Dugan’s former charge, wrote in her autobiography, Life at Two Levels, that “Miss Dugan” was with the Whitney family for twenty-five years, excluding two months each summer when she returned to Cape Cod. Mrs. Duveneck stated that Ms. Dugan was the most important person in her life during her formative years, “as teacher, companion and friend.” She indicated that sometimes Ms. Dugan lived with the family but at other times rented an outside room and came in by day. “She called me ‘Childie,'” Mrs. Duveneck wrote. “I was her child, but not her child . . . After twenty-five years of devoted service and close ties were broken, it must have been a devastating termination. Luckily she owned her old family mansion on Cape Cod, a beautiful colonial house which provided not only a home but a pond, a pine grove and a strip of beach. She had paying guests to augment her income, took beautiful photographs and helped organize the ‘Brewster Ladies Library.’ Years later, during the depression, my husband made it possible for her to retain the property.”

In 1938 Ms. Dugan deeded her home to Mrs. Duveneck. She died on her 88th birthday in 1941, but her photographic plate collection wasn’t the only creative legacy she left behind. She published a collection of plays entitled The King’s Jester, and her diary, currently in the possession of Brewster Ladies Library, captures Brewster in words just as lovingly as Ms. Dugan captured it in her glass plates. She writes in a February 3, 1877 diary entry: “I coaxed mother up to the [widow’s walk] to see the morning glory. The Bay was heaped with great cakes of snowy, beautiful ice . . . and across the wet roofs of the village drifted the gray mist of smoke born of snow and sunshine . . . It was hard to leave the house top and come down into the busy Saturday morning.”