Mystic Seaport Opens New Women’s Exhibit

A new exhibition at Mystic Seaport uses photography to explore the lives of women in the 20th Century.
mystic seaport
This photo was published in the “Fitting Out” issue of The Rudder in March 1921. (Mystic Seaport Rosenfeld Collection 1984.347.3626S)

A new exhibition at Mystic Seaport launching at the start of Women’s History Month chronicles both the luxurious and the hardworking life of women in the 20th century as seen through the lenses of the Rosenfeld family of photographers.

Entitled “On Land and Sea: A Century of Women in the Rosenfeld Collection,” these 70 photographs tell the story of lives of privilege and leisure and also lives of working-class women from the turn of the last century through the 1950s. Photos that depict impeccably attired ladies onboard sleek schooners tell one story, while images of young women training to be telephone operators in New York City tell another.

The exhibition is based on the book of the same title by Margaret L. Andersen Rosenfeld, a professor of Sociology at the University of Delaware and the daughter-in-law of Stanley Rosenfeld. The book was published by Mystic Seaport in 2007.


“The Rosenfelds are best known for their stunning images of large racing yachts under sail, but they also captured images of people and everyday events as part of their commercial photography work,” said Elysa Engelman, Director of Exhibits at Mystic Seaport. “The issues represented in these photographs still resonate to the contemporary viewer and they are depicted with the Rosenfelds’ usual attention to detail and striking composition.”

The exhibition is organized around seven themes that show the different dimensions of women’s lives in the 20th century:

• Learning the Ropes
• The Daily Grind: Women and Work
• Lifelines: Women as Care Workers
• Spirit, Sports, and Spectators
• Displaying Womanhood
• In the Yard
• Women at the Wheel


Among the photographs in the exhibition, there are aviators and athletes, suffragettes on the march, baby nurses and mothers caring for their children. Each photo provides a fascinating glimpse into the social history of women as depicted in commercial photography, from young girls having fun messing about on small boats to fashion models and society matrons. Many of these photographs are on display for the first time.

The Rosenfeld Collection, acquired by Mystic Seaport in 1984, is one of the largest archives of maritime photographs in the United States. This Collection of nearly one million pieces documents the period from 1881 to 1992. The Collection is built on the inventory of the Morris Rosenfeld & Sons photographic business, which was located in New York City from 1910 until the late 1970s. The firm grew as sons David, Stanley, and William joined their father’s business. Although they became famous as yachting photographers–most notably their coverage of the America’s Cup starting in 1920–the early work of the Rosenfelds included assignments for such firms as the New York-based entities of the Bell System from the 1910s through the 1940s. This exhibition compiles selected images of women throughout the entire collection, some nautical, and some not, to tell the social history of women through the eyes of the Rosenfelds.

As part of the opening of the exhibition, Margaret Andersen Rosenfeld will be present at a book signing on Saturday, March 4, from 10 to 11 a.m. in the Thompson Exhibition Building.