Rowena Harris (Rosendale) Fruth (1896 - 1983)


Born in Fostoria, Ohio on June 13th, 1896. She started out as a concert pianist.  In time, though, her fingers wandered from the black and white keys on the piano to the black and white of photography. 

The transition was easy for Rowena Fruth, who fervently sought out the similarities between the two arts.

Mrs. Fruth, back in 1940, came to the conclusion that the emotional idea in photography was the same in music – emphasis, tone, color, rhythm and harmony.  Thus, with her Contax III and other miniature cameras, she embarked on a career which would, in time, make her internationally known. 

Fruth became interested in photography after both her husband and son bought cameras. She sought professional instruction in New York, where she studied under Nicholas Haz for a short time in the late 1930s. Upon returning to Indiana, she joined the Indianapolis Camera Club and built a well-appointed studio and dark-room in her house.

From anyone looking in on the matter however, Mrs. Fruth was an enigma: she was a woman; she was competing in a profession enveloped by men; she became internationally known in such a short time and last but not least, she was a woman living in Connersville, Indiana, a place, she once said, most people she met outside of the state thought was “an isolated spot surrounded by Indiana.”

Mrs. Fruth, who died on May 18, 1983, started in photography, as she once said, “the hard way.”  And although her professional years were short – 1940 through 1945- they were historically significant, especially for women. 

In 1943 – American Annual of Photography reported that Rowena Fruth was the most successful exhibitor of photographic prints in the U.S. this year.  Photographs taken by Mrs. Fruth were displayed in all 49 of the International Photographic salons in the U.S., Canada and South America. 

-Her first national photo contest was in 1940 held by “Prize Photography”.  She received a printer for coming in 19th place. 

-Also that year out of 36,000 competitors, she came in 13th with her photo “Double Bubble” in the “Popular Photography” (magazine) photo contest.

-In 1941 “Belligerent Gulls” was selected to appear in U.S. Camera Annual-1941.  The pictures were judged by Edward Steichen. The U.S. Camera books were comprised of the finest photographs produced in America during that year. 

-Also in 1941- her photo “The Kiss” appeared in the 1st issue of Salon Magazine. 

-1941- "Doctor's Order's" appeared in National Geographic magazine.

-In 1942, Mrs. Fruth gave her photo, “Light” to the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences and they gratefully accepted her gift..

-During WWII, “Younger Generation” print was donated to the Victory Bond Auction of the Oklahoma International Salon of Photography in Oklahoma City.  It was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. G.H. Peer, whose bid was for $50,000 in victory bonds.

-Mrs. Fruth’s most prestigious honor came in 1944 when Edward Steichen, then a commander in the United States Marine Reserve, chose her photograph “Gas Rationing Ghost” to appear in U.S. Camera-1944: The U.S. at War.

-In 1947, her works were featured in two “special exhibits” of 60 pictorial photos one at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. and one at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in Brooklyn, New York. 

-In 1947 “Doctors Orders” was used as an illustration in Eleanor Parke Custic book “Composition and Pictures”.

-She was a life member in the Photographic Society of America

Very few of her negatives seem to have survived.

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