Gertrude Mary Davis Belle-Oudry (September 4, 1878 – January 14, 1953) was an early woman photographer in Oakland and Berkeley. She was the wife of photographer Edouard Henri Belle-Oudry (1865 – September 14, 1923) (NB: his name is often spelled Edward Henry.) While only two photographs have been found that can be definitely attributed to her, she was active for many years.
Gertrude Davis was born September 4, 1878 in New York state, to Charles H. Davis and Gertrude Davis. Her family came to the Bay Area about 1888. She was "one of the leaders in musical circles on this side of the bay" and a member of the First Presbyterian Church choir. 13 Directories in the 1890s suggest she taught music; a later article said she had a "sweet and powerful voice."
On January 30, 1900, Davis married Belle-Oudry. The ceremony was at her parents' house on Brush Street, and officiated by Rev. Mac H. Wallace of the Market Street Congregational Church. At the time, Edward lived at 1323 Chestnut (1637 Chestnut after 1912 renumbering) with his mother, Emma, and had a photography studio in the Abrahamson Building at 13th and Washington which he had opened in 1898.
Their marriage did not start off smoothly. In August 1900, an article appeared in the SF Call that Gertrude had left Edward, with accusations on both sides. 3 Then in February 1901, she asked for a divorce. The SF Examiner article quoted Edward:
"My wife and myself cannot agree. I made her my model and she objected. She is a woman of divine figure, and as an artist I made pictures of her that were poems. She forced me to destroy plates upon which the camera had recorded outlines that had great artistic value. In them she appeared in what 'Trilby' called the 'altogether'." 4
In other words, he had photographed her in the nude or nearly so, and she demanded he destroy the negatives. Relatively mild by today's standards (unless images were taken or distributed without consent), but considered quite salacious in the early 1900s.
But hooray! They made up, and less than two months later in April, they announced they were to remarry; 5 in July 1901 they remarried in Martinez. 6 They went on to have four children: Edward Valiant Belle-Oudry, Robert Belle-Oudry, Virginie Desiree Belle-Oudry (Prosser), and Gertrude Anne Belle-Oudry (Loram). NB: Virginie was sometimes written Virginia.
A happy ending, non? But wait, there's more...
In 1903, Edward had an ornate building constructed at 2627 Telegraph in Berkeley to serve as a branch studio:
The building, which will be two stories high, will be Grecian in every respect even to the decorating. At the entrance there will be an unique arch with groups of Grecian statuary and stately columns. The statuary will consist of draped figures prominent in ancient Grecian history. The work is being done under the super vision of F. Garibaldi, who came from Italy especially for this contract. 6
The cost of the building was $10,000 (a lot of money in 1903), and it had 10 rooms. Along with a larger room intended for photographing groups, the building also became their home as well. (NB: the address in 1911 was 2627 Telegraph, but also showed 2433 Carleton. By the 1950 Sanborn, the building had been expanded, and had 3 Telegraph addresses: 2625, 2627, and 2629. In 2023, Le Bateau Ivre is listed at 2629 Telegraph, and apartments in the rear are at 2433 Carleton.) It appears that Edward's mother Emma purchased the lot. 17
It's thought that Gertrude began her photography career around this time. In 1905, both she and Edward are listed as photographers at 2615 Telegraph in Berkeley (likely a typo, as there was no building at 2615), and Edward still had the Oakland studio in the Abrahamson Building at 13th and Washington. It's also worth noting that 2 women are listed as employees of E.H. Belle-Oudry, Miss Edith Darling and Miss Ida Bell.
The 1910 census shows them living at 2627 Telegraph, both with photographer as their profession, 3 children (Gertrude Anne hadn't been born yet), and Ida Holmes, a 16 year old servant. Edward's mother Emma was still living at 1323 Chestnut (1637 after 1912 renumbering), though listed under Oudry rather than Belle-Oudry in the directory. Emma died in 1914.
An interesting note is that Edward's 1910 voter registration shows them at 2677 Telegraph (likely a typo), and his political party as Socialist.
One amusing story from 1912 is that 5 year old Virginie "eloped" with 7 year old Robert Vaughn, Robert was the son of Rev. Richard M. Vaughn of the First Baptist Church of Berkeley; the Vaughns lived around the corner on Carleton. Virginie rode her tricycle, and Robert his "coaster" wagon, and they set off one morning. They went as far as West Berkeley before turning towards home, but were found by one of the groups searching for them when they were as far as the post office. 15
At the end of 1912, Gertrude and Edward moved the Oakland studio to the Blake Block at 1121 Washington, 14 though Gertrude's name isn't listed in the photographers section of the 1913 directory. But she was definitely using the darkroom there, because in April 1913, she was locked in the building and had to be rescued by the fire department in the middle of the night! 7 Later that year, a classified was published seeking a young girl to learn the photographic business.
1919 brought more marital trouble. Gertrude sued Edward for divorce, charging that he threatened to kill her and the children, and had chased their son around the house and into the yard with a gun. 8 In March 1920, she was granted the divorce by default decree. She was given custody of three of the children, and Edward was given custody of Robert, who would have been about 16 years old. 9
Despite the divorce decree, because the 1920 census was taken in January, it is similar to the 1910 census showing the family living at 2627 Telegraph, with the addition of Gertrude Anne (born in 1912), and no servants.
Edward died at home on September 15, 1923, after an illness of several weeks. The funeral notice refers to Gertrude as his widow, not ex-wife, so perhaps they reconciled after their second divorce as well. Edward's remains were cremated at Chapel of the Chimes.
Newspaper refences to Belle-Oudry drop off significantly after Edward's death, though ads for the Oakland studio still appear as late as December 1923. There are mostly references to the children. For example, Gertrude Anne wrote to Aunt Elsie in the Tribune in 1924, and graduated from Berkeley High School in 1930.
The 1930 census still shows Gertrude as a photographer, living at 2627 Telegraph along with Gertrude Anne and Virginie, and a boarder named Edith M. Chapman, a public school teacher.
It's unknown when Gertrude stopped the photography business or shifted it to part time. Gertrude kept the Oakland studio to at least 1930, and is listed in the 1933 directory at 2627 Telegraph as a photographer. Based on directories, Gertrude moved around Berkeley frequently after that, and is no longer listed as a photographer.
The 1940 census shows her living on Derby Street in Berkeley and lists her profession as a filer for the public schools, but only having worked 16 weeks the prior year. The last known address for her is from 1943, when she was at 2740 Telegraph in Berkeley, 1 just a few blocks from her old home. 2740 was the MacDonald Sanitarium in the 1950s, but in early 1940s it was a large private residence, with rooms rented to different people. Today it's the Rose Garden Inn.
Death and Burial
Gertrude died January 15, 1953. Her obituary notes that she was active at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, and was a singer of some note as well as a photographer. Gertrude Anne and Virginie were both married and living in Berkeley. Edward had moved to Hugo, Oregon, and Robert to Long Island, New York. Between them, Gertrude had 17 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild. 11
One big question is: what became of her remains? Her obituary says she died at a "local hospital," and the California Death Index supports that, with her death location as Alameda County. The funeral was at McNary-Berg Mortuary in Berkeley, but no burial information is listed. There is no entry for her on FindAGrave, but doing a wider search suggests Mount Calvary Cemetery near Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro, based on a list compiled in 2013. This raises more questions, because supposedly burials had stopped there by the 1940s (possibly as early as the 1920s). There is also an adjacent "pauper's field" used for county burials, so it's possible her remains are there. The list has the related information correct (born in New York; funeral was at McNary-Berg; claimant was her daughter Virginia [ Belle-Oudry ] Prosser; etc.) It also notes she was admitted June 20, 1951, but doesn't say which hospital. 12
"Belle-Oudry Is Not A Lady"
One curious tidbit from the newspaper are a series of ads with the text "Belle-Oudry Is Not A Lady." The first instance was in the January 21, 1900 personals listings in the San Francisco Call; 3 days later, the ad appeared in the Oakland Tribune. NB: the personals seem to be the usual category for small ads as well as what we would consider a personals listing in modern times.
This went on for several months until April, when the ad changed to note that he was a photographer.
Then in 1901, the text changed again, and gave the location of the studio in Oakland.
The ads disappeared for a while, then returned in 1905 with the original text, again in the personals listings in the San Francisco Call. The ad appeared again for several months, but not changing from the original text, then stopped.
Then seemingly out of no where, it appeared twice in December 1922 in the Tribune, then stopped. Edward died in 1923, and the ads never reappeared.
Maybe various people assumed Belle was a first name and the photographer was a woman, or maybe it became a joke on Edward's part. In any event, it was a curious ad campaign. The fact that Edward had various female assistants over the years, and Gertrude worked in the studio as well probably furthered any confusion for first-time customers.
Links and References
- Deep Diving with Gertrude Belle-Oudry, part 1 of 5 Arbitrary but not random blog (p2, p3, p4, p5) by Chris Culy
- The Photo-Miniature Volume X, January 1912, Tennant and Ward, New York
- Mrs. E. Belle-Oudry Leaves Her Husband San Francisco Call August 10, 1900
- Wife and Model Asks For Divorce San Francisco Examiner February 21, 1901
- Are Happy Once Again Oakland Tribune April 10, 1901
- New Studio For E. Belle-Oudry Oakland Tribune September 23, 1903
- Firemen Rescue Mrs. Belle-Oudry Oakland Tribune April 4, 1913
- Charges Husband Threatened Son Oakland Tribune November 19, 1919
- Mrs. Belle-Oudry Is Granted a Divorce Oakland Tribune March 24, 1920
- E. Belle-Oudry Funeral Monday Oakland Tribune September 16, 1923
- Rites Held for Mrs. Belle-Oudry Oakland Tribune January 15, 1953
Alameda County Burials at Mount Calvary Cemetery, San Leandro, California by Janet Prince, San Leandro Public Library
Personal and Social Oakland Tribune January 30, 1900
ad Oakland Tribune December 22, 1912
Son of Berkeley Minister Elopes San Francisco Call March 3, 1912
Official Records Oakland Tribune November 27, 1902
- Edouard Belle-Oudry on FindAGrave