essay: Candace McCormick Reed, Photographer

by Iris Nelson
submitted 2011


Candace McCormick Reed (1818-1900) was born in Crab Orchard, Tennessee on June 17, 1818 and moved to St. Louis as a young girl. She married Warren Reed in 1842 in St. Louis. Leaving Missouri for Quincy, Illinois, the Reeds opened a daguerreotype gallery in 1848 on the southeast corner of the downtown square, now Washington Park. When her husband died ten years later in April of 1858, Candace Reed became the gallery owner and used her acquired expertise as a daguerreotypist, ambrotypist, and photographer to support herself, two young sons, and her mother-in-law.


As a 40-year old widow she met her financial obligations by selling their former business location and opening her own Excelsior Gallery. Within five months of becoming a widow, Mrs. Reed advertised the opening of the Excelsior Picture Gallery at 103 Hampshire Street. Shew as assisted by her sister, Miss Celina McCormick.


In 1862 the Excelsior Gallery moved to another location on the public square. Typically working under the name Mrs. W.A. Reed or Mrs. Warren Reed, she advertised in the Quincy Whig & Republican (January 4, 1862) promoting her new stock of camera equipment “to surpass everything in the line of her art….”


This classified ad indicates that Reed kept up with the advancing camera equipment and techniques and looked to achieving the finest artistic form. Among her talents was the art of painting photographs. One of her specialties became copying and enlarging old photographs and retouching them in crayon, oil, watercolor or India ink.


During the Civil War years reed assisted with the founding of a support group for soldiers and their families, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, and served as a nurse in the army hospitals in Nashville, Chattanooga and Vicksburg. Reed returned to Quincy and operated her gallery business in several locations over the years. For a short time she was also a photographer in Canton, La Grange and Palmyra, Missouri, just across the Mississippi River from Quincy.


Self-employed women, such as Candace Reed, were atypical in the 19t century. According to the Census of Illinois in 1870 there were only 15 women photographers in the state. By 1880 34 women were listed as photographers in Illinois. Mrs. Reed was the proprietor of a well-known and successful gallery for over 40 years. While many studios came and went, she achieved a prolonged existence that few studios attained.


Many of the photographs taken by Mrs. Reed still survive, although an 1878 file in the studio at 403½ Hampshire destroyed numerous plates. Probably losses in that fire were the photos that Mrs. Reed took to document the 1860 construction of Governor John Wood’s octagonal stone mansion near 11th and State Street. Numerous carte-de-visite portraits, family photographs and photographs of soldiers during the war survive. These photos, along with city street scenes, record events and provide an enhanced view of local 19th century culture. Her legacy of photographic work adds immensely to community historical perspectives.


Candace Reed died in Quincy on April 7, 1900 at the age of 82. Her obituary relays that she was a noble woman who was “broadminded … and unselfish.”

Note: Many photos taken by Reed are a part of the Early Illinois Women website at