Alice Margaret Dickinson (1877-1963)
Pioneering Woman Professional Photographer in North Carolina, 1906 - 1929
An overlooked pioneering female commercial photographer in North Carolina, Alice Margaret Dickinson was the earliest known woman professional photographer in the Swannanoa Valley (Black Mountain, Montreat, etc.). Dickinson was the 6th earliest woman professional photographer in Western North Carolina and among the 30 earliest in the state.
She published her photographs, postcards, and illustrations in Conference Center brochures from around 1906/1907 up until 1929. She operated a tent during the conference seasons circa 1907 - 1910 according to Foreman family journals. In addition to her souvenir photos of scenics, she also took portraits and family house pictures. According to 1910 census records, she was listed as a “Gallery Photographer” in Montreat/Black Mountain and an “Artistic Photographer” in Melrose, Massachusetts. In the early 1900s, she split her time between Montreat and Massachusetts.
More than 60+ pictures have been conclusively proven by Presbyterian Heritage Center research to be taken by Alice Margaret Dickinson. Another two dozen plus images are attributed to her. This is probably only a fraction of the photographs she made.
Alice Margaret Dickinson was born on Aug. 31, 1877 in Lowell,
Massachusetts. She and her two siblings, Francis and Helen, were
descended from Dickinsons traced back to 1601 in England and who settled in New England by 1637. They are also first cousins (once removed) of the poet from Amherst, Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). Their great grandfather, Deacon Samuel Dickinson, founded Amherst College.
Alice’s older brother, Francis Richardson Dickinson was the start of the family’s Montreat connection. As Congregationalists from New England, Francis bought an early share and a leased lot in Montreat in 1898 (Lot #249, 131 Virginia Road, present day “Christmas Cottage”).
In 1907, Alice and her sister Helen purchased Lot #91 and built a home in Montreat at 111 Virginia Road, currently “Hearth Haven.” In 1919, the sisters sold that and in 1924 inherited the original lot of brother Francis at 131 Virginia Road and owned it until 1933. At the time of their deaths in 1958 (Helen) and Alice (1963), they were living in Asheville and are buried at Riverside Cemetery.
Alice worked as a commercial photographer in her early career, but later became a secretary and nurse at Montreat Normal School (1923-1925). She later worked as secretary in a church school (1930), then in Asheville as an Assistant Manager at the Sunnyside Inn in Asheville (1937). She also worked as a housekeeper in a private home on Sunset Mountain (1940). As a single woman, in the days of the Depression and before social security was available, she apparently worked at several professions. Her sister, Helen, stayed in Montreat most of her life and also stayed with the Montreat Normal School/Montreat College for her whole career.