I keep encouraging people to hang on to (or find safe homes for) vintage photographs of unidentified people they're tempted to dispose of --- just because they're unidentified. My argument is that there's a chance, if a photograph survives, that someone somewhere sometime will recognize its subject. That becomes more likely as the number of digital images available online continues to increase.
My theory paid off recently when this beautifully preserved and presented image of a woman tentatively identified as Almira (Strock) McFarland (1844-1936) --- known as Mira --- arrived at the Lucas County Historical Society.
I knew immediately that it wasn't Mira because we have a clear image of her in the collection in this wonderful image dated April 20, 1898, portraying members of the Zetamatheans, one of many women's clubs that flourished in Chariton during the late 19th and early 20th century. Founded in 1892, the Zetamatheans disbanded in 1929 when only four members were left. Mira is seated third from left.
However, I'm as certain as I can be of anything that the woman in the portrait is at far left among the Zetamatheans --- Ruth (Huff) Stuart (1844-1933). It may be that her portrait was taken at the same time as the group shot --- she appears to be wearing the same dress and the quality and presentation of the two images are similar.
Ruth, born during 1844 in Illinois, grew up in Fremont County, Iowa, where she attended Tabor College and then married a young Methodist minister, the Rev. Thomas McKendree Stuart, during 1867 at her family's home near Sidney.
The Stuarts arrived in Chariton for the first time during 1874 when he was assigned as pastor to the Chariton Methodist Episcopal Church. After that, he served as presiding elder of the Chariton District of the Iowa Conference until 1882, when he returned to the regular ministry and the family moved elsewhere. They returned in 1892, when the Rev. Mr. Stuart was appointed to a second term as presiding elder of the Chariton District and remained until his term expired in 1897, moving the next year --- the year the Zetamathean image was taken --- to Des Moines.
When the Rev. Mr. Stuart retired, the couple moved to Council Bluffs where he died on April 3, 1911, at the age of 67. Ruth continued to live in Council Bluffs until Feb. 27, 1933, when she died at the age of 88. Both are buried in that city's Walnut Hill Cemetery.
I'm assuming the friendship that linked Mira and Ruth was why the former's descendants found a photograph of the latter among her possessions. And now you know what both looked like.