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February 11, 2021

Portraits of Charlotte Bronson, Before and After Tuberculosis, ca. 1850s

Charlotte Bronson was born in Connecticut on September 14, 1832 to Ira Hull Bronson (1793–1857) and Elizabeth Dodge (1799–1867). Ira and Elizabeth married July 17, 1820 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and had eight children.

This image, taken in about 1850, shows Charlotte in perfect health at approximately the age of 18. A short time later, that would drastically change and by Halloween 1856, Charlotte would be dead.

Portrait of Charlotte Bronson, circa 1850.

The poor-quality ambrotype, [below], shows Charlotte a mere six years later, in the final months of her life. She is suffering from Tuberculosis, a plague that killed hundreds of thousands annually.

Charlotte Bronson in the last months of her life, 1856.

Charlotte is buried in Jordanville Cemetery with her father, who died a year later, also of Tuberculosis.

This pair of images is a very rare glimpse of the ravages of Tuberculosis in Victorian times. It was during this same short stretch of years that Charlotte Bronte so famously lost her three siblings to Tuberculosis within the space of eight months. “The wreck of talent, the ruin of promise...” and “gone like dreams” were two of the phrases Charlotte Bronte used to describe the loss of Branwell, Emily, and Anne to this horrible illness.

In the ambrotype, Charlotte Bronson is only 24 years old, yet she looks thirty years older. Her clothing is falling from her skeletal frame and her eyes clearly show that death is not far. The ambrotype is doubtless a final image for her family, a last chance to preserve the substance before the soul flees.

(Images © Ann Longmore-Etheridge)


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