Sunday, January 5, 2020

Snow People Pics of the Past

By Anita Mae Draper

Winter, Penrhyn Stanlaws, artist, 1907. LOC Prints and Photographs Division
This 1907 art poster shows a style of snowman with legs instead of a wide base. The artist, Penrhyn Stanlaws, has created a scene with a woman in a fashionable outfit with her hands in a hand muffler and standing beside what appears to be a male snowman. Unfortunately, the publisher isn't identified.

A snowman is not just an iconic image to be sung about and enjoyed during the holidays if you are someone who lives in a snow belt. Anyone who has ever made a snowman, dreamed of making one, or watched a movie featuring a snowman knows that snowmen keep us snow-thumpers sane through the winter months. First, you need a certain type of snow that is moist enough to hold the snow together and that means around freezing point with lots of moisture in the air. Second, the weather that brings the perfect snow to make a snowman is the same type of weather that melts snow. Hence, seeing a snowman brings hope of a thaw, yet it also brings the inevitability of something wonderful passing.

Since snowmen are also found as snow women and snow people, I wanted to see what they looked like in the past. I was pleased to discover that circa 1853, Welsh photographer Mary Dillwyn (1816-1908) took the first known photograph of a snowman. Although the original is held in The National Library of Wales, it is displayed on the their Flickr site, as well as on Wikipedia.

The earliest known photograph of a snowman, Mary Dillwyn, photographer c.1853. Public domain
I find it fascinating that a c1853 image shows such detail in the clothing, never mind the fact that someone thought that playing in the snow was worthy of a photograph. (If I may inject a modern term, Go Mary!) 

Wikipedia also shows a 1511 woodcut with a wonderful scene of people dancing around a snowman, with more snowmen in the background. 

People are dancing around a snowman, woodcut by Holzschnitt von Schneemann, 1511. Wikipedia, public domain
In 1867, a book translated as, The World is Small: Twelve Pictures from Children's Life. A family book, was written in German by the poet Emil Rittershaus with drawings created by Eduard Schulz. The drawing for Winter shows a large snowman surrounded by children. 

Illustration from The world in small: twelve pictures from children's life. A family book by Eduard Schulz with text by Emil Rittershaus, Flemming, Glogau 1867. Wikipedia, public domain
Can you tell if the snowman in the above photo is a snow man or woman? Although it seems to have been made with the same style of two- or three-ball snowmen we often see today, it has the older style wide base. Could this be for stability, or is it because the person depicted is wearing a robe or skirt? 

The National Archives of The Netherlands Flickr photostream shows a delightful image taken on January 21, 1913, where the country's Queen Wilhelmina & Princess Juliana were created as "snowmen." 

The Dutch Queen Wilhelmina and Princess Juliana as snowmen. The Netherlands, 21 January, 1913. National Archives of The Netherlands Flickr photostream, public domain
The features are outstanding, but were the snow people of the Dutch royal family a true likeness? A bit of research from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division in Washington led me to a photograph of Queen Wilhelmina and Princess Juliana taken the following year, in 1914. What do you think?

Queen Wilhelmina and Princess Juliana, glass negative, 1914.  LOC public domain

In April 1924, American silent film actress Fritzi Ridgeway was photographed cuddling up to a snowman. The image doesn't say where the photo was taken, but Fritzi was born and raised in Montana and due to the proximity to the mountains I'm sure she could have found sticky snow in April if she wanted to make a snowman. It's interesting to note that the base of this snowman is also quite wide, and along with his cap appears to give the impression of a being a boat captain due to their wide stance on a lolling ship.

What it takes to melt a snowman this young lady has - Miss Fritzi Ridgeway, April 2, 1924. LOC public domain
My research led me to believe that the snowman's shape didn't change much until the sending and receiving of Christmas cards became a huge part of the holiday season. Postcards from the late 1800's onward show every type of snowman imaginable, much more than can be added here.

I'll close with a very modern 2018 cell phone photo taken by my daughter who is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in South Korea. Snow in winter is as familiar to Jess as Christmas is in December, but not so much to the people in her current resident city. So when she awoke one morning to find a light dusting of snow rapidly melting, she raced to a sheltered spot and made a tiny snowman. My heart swelled as I thought of my daughter, halfway across the world, taking joy in something as simple as snow.

Snow is cold, wet, and miserable when you have to deal with it on a long-term basis, but it's also wonderful to play with and to create something that will make people smile. It's part of our natural cycle and most of us would rather live with it than give it up because we know there will come the day when temperatures rise and all snow people will melt away. 

The Welsh photographer, Mary Dillwyn, knew the importance of building a snowman when she took her 1853 photograph shown near the top of this post. Making a snowman is a great stress-relieving activity for the mind, body, and spirit. 

Have you had the chance to make a snowman? If you've never made one, what style would you make if you could? 


Anita Mae Draper lives on the Canadian prairies where she uses her experience and love of history to enhance her stories of yesteryear's romance with realism and faith. Readers can enrich their story experience with visual references by checking Anita's Pinterest boards. All links available on her website at


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by and letting me know, Kate. :)

  2. I've made quite a few snowmen, but not this year. It's been unseasonably warm here.

    1. Here too, Vickie. It's probably why I was thinking of it because we qualified for a white Christmas, but only by the barest amount of snow. Looks like another dry year on the prairies coming up. :(

      Appreciate you stopping by and commenting.

  3. Haven't made a snowman in a while. Thanks for reminding me of the fun of it.

    1. Yes, we must think of the fun side as it will keep away the shivers. :D

      Always appreciate your visits. :)

  4. This is such a fun post---I love old photos and vintage prints. And, being snowless here in Chicagoland this year, definitely appreciated!