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Spencer Family Photograph Collection, 1896-1911, AIS.1990.07
Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh

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What’s online

The Spencer Family online collection contains 169 images taken by Charles Spencer from 1889 through 1911 showing the Spencer family working and playing in and around their home in Shadyside on Amberson Avenue.

Images were selected that depicted the life of an upper middle-class family in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Images chosen focus on the children engaged in some interesting activity that was staged by their father, Charles Hart Spencer, as well as other activities associated with their life in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

What’s in the entire collection

The collection, held by the Archives Service Center (ASC) at the University of Pittsburgh, comprises nine scrapbooks of 1,275 photographs taken between 1896 and 1911. The photographs primarily show the family at their Shadyside home and on vacation in the eastern United States. Charles Spencer's family photographs are an intimate document of middle class family life in Pittsburgh. Beyond this, they are a creative body of work that reflects his artistry, sensitivity, and mastery of a relatively new medium. His photographs are carefully composed and demonstrate his attention not only to the artistic but technical dimensions of photography.

About the Spencer Family

The Spencer family was a middle class family headed by Charles Hart Spencer (1852-1912), who worked as an agent of Henry Clay Frick. Charles’ family included his wife, Mary Acheson Spencer (1863-1950), daughter of Judge Joseph Acheson, and their seven children: Adeline Spencer Curry (1884-1984), Kate Spencer (1886-1961), Ethel Spencer (1889-1966); Mark Spencer (1892-1975); Mary Spencer (1893-1971); Charles Spencer (1895-1976); and Elizabeth Spencer Blue (1895-1991). The Spencer family had a solid merchant background, with storeowners on the paternal side and a prominent judge on the maternal side.

Shadyside was a fairly rural community when the Spencer family children were growing up during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. While the family earned a better than average income for their class, they also had a larger than average family. They lived comfortably, but it was not without sacrifices in order to do so. Due to their family size, they employed more servants than the average middle class family but they spent little money on luxuries like the theater, and the children wore hand-me-downs that were mainly made within the family. The Spencer played on Shadyside streets, and their activities were focused on education, music, and religion. Mrs. Spencer was a dominant force in the household who strongly encouraged all of her children to attend college. Mrs. Spencer's own college education distinguishes her from other middle class women of the time.

For more information on the Spencer family, see The Spencers of Amberson Avenue: A Turn of the Century Memoir by Ethel Spencer, edited by Michael P. Weber and Peter N. Stearns, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1983.

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