Carroll exhibit highlights pioneer in photojournalism

Honor: An arts council salutes one of the first women in the nation to achieve success in a field once dominated by men.

March 17, 2002|By Justin Paprocki | Justin Paprocki,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At the turn of the last century, Westminster native Sadie Miller traveled the world as one of the nation's first female photojournalists, capturing in black-and-white images of the Alaskan Gold Rush, Mexican rebel Pancho Villa and the mounting German war machine before World War I.

Although Miller collected an extensive portfolio, becoming one of the most recognized and accomplished photographers of her time, her work was largely forgotten - even in her hometown.

That's changing with Carroll County Arts Council's exhibit of Miller's work this month. The exhibit, Mrs. Miller's Maryland: The Lady from Leslie's, includes more than 100 of her photographs and articles.

"It's unusual that we would have a show like this," said Sandy Oxx, executive director of the gallery.

The gallery decided to diverge from its usual traditional art showcases to honor Miller as part of Women's History Month.

Miller, who was born in Westminster in 1867 and educated at Western Maryland College, had her work pushed aside in history until it was rediscovered by Western Maryland College English professor Keith Richwine in the early 1980s. Richwine then took it on a tour of Maryland in part to restore the pioneering photojournalist's reputation, which may have been lost because she was a woman.

Miller was unique in her field, one dominated by men.

"We've forgotten how hard it is to be working as a woman at the turn of the century," Oxx said.

Miller started her career as one of the first baseball reporters in the nation, covering the Baltimore Orioles for the Baltimore Telegram and signing her work SKM to disguise her identity.

She ended her career after a stroke forced her to retire from Leslie's Illustrated Weekly in 1918, where she had risen to become one of the most recognized and accomplished photographers of her time.

She died at age 53 in 1920, with an extensive portfolio, some of which is shown at the gallery. There are her grainy black-and-white images of the mangled battleship Maine resurfacing in Havana. There's a photo of Miller, in elaborate dress, atop a mule in Yosemite National Park.

She documented five Democratic conventions, the Baltimore fire of 1904 and is credited with taking the last known photograph of suffragist Susan B. Anthony. She was one of the first reporters in Baltimore to tour and photograph the city's new sewage pipes in the early 1900s.

Her adventures extended out of the gutter in 1912 when German officers arrested her on assignment at a North Sea base, mistaking her for an English spy, according to a Leslie's article on display at the gallery. Her captors didn't realize she was photographing the base and let her off with a warning, but not without her snapping a few more photos, some of which are on display in the gallery.

But some of her more poignant photographs are local.

There are grainy photos of the Western Maryland campus, with buildings still recognizable. There's a photo of the house in which Miller was born, at 78 W. Main St., which still stands.

"For a woman to do what she accomplished is interesting," said Naomi Benzil of the Carroll County Commission for Women, which helped organize the exhibit.

The exhibit features photocopies of Miller's photographs from Leslie's instead of actual prints because little of her original work survived her death or a fire at Leslie's in the 1920s that destroyed its archives, according Western Maryland College archivist Barbara O'Brien.

Miller's legacy is largely forgotten, even on the campus of her alma mater. She is mentioned briefly in a course at Western Maryland, but her images are not on permanent display there. The exhibit is kept in Western Maryland's archives, but Benzil said she decided to approach the college about showing it in salute for Women's History Month.

The gallery found the exhibit to be a welcome change of pace, Oxx said.

Sun staff writer Maria Blackburn contributed to this article.

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