A Short Biography of Henry Schaefer

Henry (or Heinrich) C. Schaefer was born in Abernjesabei, Gottengen, Germany on September 21, 1847[1]. Nothing is known about his early life before April of 1875, when he married Elisabeth Henriette Sarnow, who was from Mecklinburg, Germany and also born in 1847[2]. Their first of five children, Walter Carl was born in 1876 in Germany[3], and their second, Eleanor Marie Ernestine, in New York City, so it is safe to say that the Schaefers emigrated to the United States sometime between April of 1876 and July of 1877, when Eleanor was born[4]. It is known that the family spent some time in the Midwestern U. S. and New Jersey[5], and that is supported in part by the fact that Reinhart Herman was born in Michigan in 1883[6]. Their fourth child, Elizabeth Sophie, was born in 1886[7]. It is not known when Henry Schaefer began to take photographs, but judging from the accomplishment of his later work he must have started at a young age, perhaps even before he emigrated.

Some time in 1887, the Schaefer Family moved to Annapolis, Maryland, and Henry set up his studio in their home at 6 Main Street[8]. Shortly thereafter, their last child, Hedwig Louise Maria, was born in October of 1888[9]. Henry Schaefer's Studio soon became extremely popular, and he could rightly claim that "our Cabinet [Card] work equals the finest in the State."[10] He not only photographed portraits in both the small cabinet card size and larger sizes, but he also photographed scenes throughout Annapolis, including St. John's College and the U. S, Naval Academy. In addition, he did many wonderful photographs from the State House Dome in Annapolis, the height of which made it a favorite vantage point for photographers, artists, and sightseers in the late nineteenth century to look over the city[11].

However, Henry Schaefer did not only photograph life in Annapolis: he and his family participated in it. They were members of St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Elizabeth in particular being "a faithful member of the woman's group,"[12] and Henry was a member of several organizations, such as the Improved Order of Heptasophs and the Knights of Pythias[13]. Two of his three daughters married men from Annapolis: Eleanor married William Henry Smith, a baker, in 1903[14]; and Hedwig Louise married Jack Naudian Francis, a printer at the U. S. Naval Academy in 1929[15]. The two boys never married; Walter graduated from St. John's College in 1895[16] and assisted his father in the studio[17] before going on to become a teacher in Annapolis and New York City[18]. Reinhart became a tool maker[19], and the other daughter, Elizabeth, married a man from Philadelphia[20].

Henry Schaefer never saw his children marry, however. After an illness of six months and at the age of 48, he died on September 7th, 1895[21]. He had been in Annapolis only nine years, and yet he was greatly missed: his funeral on September 10 was well attended[22], and the Evening Capital ran a sizable obituary and article about his funeral[23]. Elizabeth Sarnow Schaefer, with the assistance of Walter, kept the studio going for two years until her death in 1898[24].

The three images on this page are from the photographic collections of the Maryland State Archives. Top: a self portrait of Henry Schaefer, 1887-1895; SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Henry Schaefer Collection) MSA SC 1804-1. Middle: the reverse of a cabinet card taken by Schaefer advertising his studio; SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Vintage Photograph Collection) MSA SC 1902-88b. Bottom: label from a photograph taken by Schaefer; MARYLAND STATE ARCHIVES (Photograph Project Files) MSA S 1275-3-76.

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