Alice Mason’s album of Civil War photographs is a comprehensive, personal representation of the war. The circumstances of the creation of Alice Mason’s album of Civil War photographs are unclear. There is no way of knowing whose eye and experience informed the selection of these views, whether they were chosen and arranged by Alice Mason herself, or by someone else.
Probably assembled in Washington after the conclusion of the war, the album opens with portraits of the defenders of the Union, arranged in order of precedence. The first page contains two portraits of President Abraham Lincoln. Succeeding pages include portraits of General Ulysses S. Grant and other Army and Navy officers. Confederate portraits include those of Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis, General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.
The portraits are followed by views. Beginning with the battlefield at Bull Run, the album records, in chronological order, the campaigns fought in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, concluding with the fall of Richmond, the Grand Military Review, and President Lincoln’s second inauguration. Many of the photographs are today relatively unknown. Those that can be attributed were published by either Mathew Brady or Alexander Gardner, both of whom had galleries in Washington.
Alice Mason (1838-1913) was born in Boston. In 1857, she married William Sturgis Hooper (1833-1863), member of a prominent merchant family. During the war, Hooper volunteered to serve as an aide, but his diligent work undermined his already fragile health and he died in 1863.The following summer, Alice Mason went to Washington, D. C., where she volunteered as a nurse and visited the wounded in the military hospitals surrounding the city. Alice Mason was briefly married to Senator Charles Sumner, but the couple soon separated and divorced.
After the war, Alice Mason went to live in London and Paris, where she moved in fashionable expatriate circles and became a friend of Henry James and of John Singer Sargent, who painted her portrait. Her daughter, Isabella, married Edward Balfour of Balbirnie in Scotland. The Civil War photograph album remained in the Balfour family until the donors, in consultation with Hooper family descendants in Boston, donated it to the Boston Athenæum.
Curator Emerita of Prints and Photographs