We are all familiar with early women photographers like Bernice Abbott and Margaret Bourke-White. However, one of the earliest and best amateurs lived in our own backyard.
Jeanette Bernard (1855-1941) married her husband Louis in 1892, 16 years her senior, and they purchased a large house in Winfield Junction which today that is 50-05 66 St. in Woodside, on the borderline of Maspeth.
Too old to have children, they adopted Minnie Fennel, born October 1880, already a young teen, to be their daughter. Census records show Bernard’s occupation as a music teacher, though her real passion was photography. From 1904 until 1924 she took thousands of photographs, hand-developed them and sent them to magazines, publications and newspapers, entering them in photo contests.
She regularly submitted to Leslie’s Weekly, winning the award “Best Amateur Photographer of 1907.” She submitted to Youth’s Companion, Brownings Magazine, and the Evening Mail Illustrated Saturday Magazine. Her photos were sometimes very humorous and depicted early Queens County life.
When her daughter Minnie married Frank Keyser they all continued to live under the same roof for the rest of their lives. Minnie operated a candy store in Glendale until the 1950s and they had one daughter named Jeanette in honor of her loving mother.
Their large house was sold in 1957 to Delia Martinez, who operated an import dress company there until 2004. One hundred and one of her photos survived and are preserved in the George Eastman House Museum. Her thousands of negatives are presumed lost or destroyed and have never surfaced. The house where she took so many photos still stands, and the house directly across the street seen in the background of many of her photos still does, as well, engulfed by the development of the 21st century all around them.