Skip to main content

Doris Ulmann photographs

Identifier: PH 038

Scope and Contents note

Series 1: Prints includes 304 original matted prints. Of these prints, approximately half are platinum prints that were mounted and signed by Ulmann; the others are silver gelatin prints developed by Samuel H. Lifshey, a New York commercial photographer, after Ulmann’s death at the request of the Ulmann Foundation. The prints are 6.5 x 8.5” mounted onto approximately 11.5 x 14.25” boards with window mats.

The subject matter of the prints includes portraits in studio settings of famous figures and of rural residents from Appalachia and the South. The matted prints are organized into subseries based on the depicted setting and project: 1.1: Studio portraits and 1.2: Rural photography. Many of these portraits appear in Ulmann’s published books of photogravures and these are described in 1.1 Studio portraits when available. Many of the celebrity portraits also include an inscription and signature of the sitter on the front of the mat.

Prints in Subseries 1.2: Rural photography generally have no formal titles assigned by Ulmann and includes some still lifes and landscapes in addition to the portraits. In both subseries, names of sitters have been described when available.

Series 2: Albums includes 81 albums containing over 10,000 proof prints assembled by the Doris Ulmann Foundation. These proof prints were printed between 1934 and 1937 by S. H. Lifshey after Ulmann’s death from her original glass plate negatives. The albums were annotated with dates of capture and sitter’s names by the Ulmann Foundation.

Series 3: Secondary material primarily includes copy reference prints and negatives reproduced from Ulmann's glass negatives after the collection was acquired by UO Libraries. These are organized by creator, including prints and negatives created by David Featherstone and prints, negatives, and slides created by UO Libraries or unnamed creators.

David Featherstone (b. 1945) is the author of Doris Ulmann: American portraits (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985) and the prints in this series were created during his research on the book. There are 383 prints of 100 images and 10 negatives by Featherstone. This series also includes a twenty-first century portrait of one of Ulmann’s sitters, Frances Stiles Whitener, in her old age holding Ulmann’s photos of her as a youth.

Series 4: Negatives includes glass plate negatives. These are the only remaining known Ulmann negatives.


  • Majority of material found within 1914-1934
  • 1914-2010


Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time. Glass plate negatives and lantern slides are restricted due to the fragility of the format. All decisions regarding use will be at the discretion of the curator for visual materials.

Conditions Governing Use note

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

Doris Ulmann (1882-1934) was born in New York City. In 1900 she was enrolled in the school of the Ethical Culture Society. After graduation, Ulmann enrolled at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College where she fell under the tutelage of photography instructor Clarence H. White. White was a founding member of Photo-Secession in 1902 and a recognized leader of the Pictorialist movement. Though sympathetic to Pictorialism, Ulmann began to depart from its standard form in her photographic work.

By 1918 she began to pursue portraiture as her primary focus. Using her Park Avenue apartment as a studio, Ulmann photographed many well-known writers, intellectuals, and artists. Ulmann’s work was featured in several fine press books: Twenty-four Portraits of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University (1920), A Book of Portraits of the Medical Department of Johns Hopkins University (1922), and A Portrait Gallery of American Editors (1925).

Ulmann’s initial reputation was built upon her portraiture of prominent sitters, but the major work of her life involved photographing rural people of the South. By 1925, Ulmann began to take trips outside of New York City in search of subjects. These outings led her to photograph Dunkard, Mennonite, and Shaker communities in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. During this period Ulmann traveled to the Southern Highlands region of Kentucky where she took thousands of photographs in rural, isolated communities. These images were published in Allen Eaton’s book, Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands (1934). Ulmann also photographed the Gullahs of the Sea Islands and tidewater areas of South Carolina and Georgia. Seventy-two of these images appear in Julia Peterkin’s Roll, Jordan, Roll (1934).

Until her death she made yearly trips to photograph in remote regions of Appalachia with her assistant John Jacob Niles. Doris Ulmann died on August 28, 1934.


69.8 linear feet (152 containers) : 15 flat boxes, 28 flat legal clamshells, 1 phase box, 108 negative boxes

Language of Materials



Doris Ulmann (1822-1934) was a New York photographer. The collection consists of vintage prints, proof prints bound in albums, and glass-plate negatives primarily featuring portraits of notable people, craftspeople, and farmers. The collection also includes reference prints and negatives reproduced from Ulmann's original negatives.


The Doris Ulmann photographs are arranged in four series:

Series 1: Prints, 1916-1934. Series 2: Albums, circa 1915-1934. Series 3: Secondary material, circa 1934-2010. Series 4: Negatives, circa 1915-1934.

Series 1: Prints is arranged in two subseries:

Subseries 1.1: Studio portraits, 1916-1931 and Subseries 1.2: Rural photography, circa 1917-1934. Studio portraits are arranged into headings by title of publication when possible. Within headings, items are arranged alphabetically by name of sitter. Rural photography is arranged alphabetically by title or name where identified.

Series 2: Albums is arranged numerically by unique identifier of albums.

Series 3: Secondary material is arranged alphabetically.

Series 4: Negatives is arranged numerically by unique identifier of negatives (enumeration assigned by Ulmann Foundation prior to acquisition).

Custodial History

After Ulmann’s death in 1934, the contents of her studio were placed in storage at Columbia University. The artist’s will had established a foundation of five trustees to administer the disposition of her collection. One of the first acts of the Ulmann Foundation was to oversee the development of the negatives that Ulmann made during her final trip to Appalachia. To do so, they enlisted the help of S.H. Lifshey, a New York commercial photographer. After developing these most recent negatives, Lifshey then turned his attention to creating proof prints from the vast archive of glass plate negatives.

The proof prints of the 10,000 negatives were then mounted in albums. Allen Eaton, chairman of the Ulmann Foundation, and John Jacob Niles, Ulmann’s assistant during her Appalachian tours, annotated the albums. In addition to creation of these proof prints, prints were created for Berea College in Kentucky. Approximately three thousand prints, largely of Appalachian subjects, were delivered to Berea. The task of developing negatives, printing proof prints and assembling them in the albums, and preparing prints for Berea was finally completed in 1937.

The Ulmann archive—the glass negatives and albums of proof prints as well as her personal collection of platinum prints—remained in storage at Columbia University until the early 1950s when the University, needing more storage space for its own collections, asked the Foundation to attend to its removal. Martin Schmitt, former curator of Special Collections (1948-1978) at the University of Oregon Library, became aware of the archive and had concern for its preservation. A number of institutions expressed interest in portions of the collection; only the University of Oregon made a commitment to maintaining the entire collection. The Ulmann Foundation welcomed the offer from Oregon. After successful negotiations between Columbia University, the Ulmann Foundation, and the University of Oregon, arrangements were made for the transfer of the collection to the University of Oregon.

Despite concern for maintaining the congruity of the collection, prior to the transfer of the archive, the Foundation decided for what were termed “practical reasons” to reduce the weight of the shipment: approximately seven thousand glass negatives were destroyed. These lost images are preserved only in the remaining proof prints. The surviving archive—the glass plate negatives, proof prints, and original platinum prints—was shipped to the University of Oregon in June 1954. Concurrent with the Oregon shipment, the Foundation deposited approximately twenty-five hundred platinum prints from Ulmann’s personal collection at the New York Historical Society.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Gift of the Doris Ullman Foundation, 1954. Featherstone prints gift of David Featherstone, 2006. Whitener portrait gift of Marsha Franklin Whitener, 2012.

Existence and Location of Copies

Selected items are available online in the Doris Ulmann photographs, 1920s-1934 in Oregon Digital.

Related materials note

A 1957 audio interview with Ulmann's assistant John Jacob Niles giving a biographical account of Doris Ulmann and their project is available in the University Archives sound recordings collection (UA 180). A digitized copy of Niles's interview is available online in Oregon Digital, restricted to on-campus access only.

Guide to the Doris Ulmann photographs
Complete Description
Finding aid prepared by Alexa Goff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA