Friday, September 17, 2021

J. H. Needham and the Needham Studio

It can be helpful when trying to identify the subjects of a vintage photograph to know when it was taken. And one major clue often is the the name of the studio imprinted on the backing of a cabinet card like this one, used in yesterday's post about the battle over baptism in Chariton during the fall of 1891.

Had I not already known that the subjects were evangelists Edgar M. Hutto (left) and George F. Hall and that it was taken in Chariton during late August or September of 1891, the imprint identifying it as the work of the Needham & Howard North Side Gallery in Chariton would have offered a clue.

The photographers, Jerome H. Needham and Cyrenius A. Howard, were in business together only during 1891 and early 1892, which narrows the timeframe. Howard (1866-1929), a young school teacher at the time he joined Needham, decided rather quickly that such work wasn't for him and moved on.

Needham followed the profession until 1896 when he died of tuberculosis in Shenandoah and his remains were returned to Chariton for burial beside two children who had died while he and his wife, Jessie, were living here. His images before and after the Howard partnership are imprinted "Needham" alone or "Needham Elite Studio."


Mr. Needham, born during April of 1855 in Indiana, arrived in southwest Iowa after the Civil War when his parents settled in Union County. On Dec. 31, 1881, at Afton, he married Jessie Arminta Hayes.

The newlyweds moved to Grant City, just over the state line south in Missouri, and he operated a photographic studio there until early 1888 when The Chariton Democrat reported on Jan. 19 that "Mr. J.H. Needham, of Grant City, Mo., is arranging to soon open a photograph gallery in the rooms over Jesse Lewis' grocery store."

Needham was a talented photographer and a hard worker, establishing a lucrative business during the next five years, employing several assistants. His business included several short-lived "pop up" studios in other towns in the south of Iowa and a portable studio housed in a wagon. Early on, he moved from his rooms over the Lewis grocery store on the east side of the square to the second floor of the north-side Mallory Block, just west of the alley.

Unfortunately, Mr. Needham suffered from tuberculosis, a disease that claimed the lives of at least two of his siblings, and so during 1893 he sold his studio to Clarence Rose. The Patriot of Feb. 1, 1893, reported that "J.H. Needham, having sold his photograph gallery to Clarence Rose, expects to get into some business that will take him more into open air, as his health has not been good since his severe illness in the early part of winter."

By this time, the Needhams had had three children --- Beulah, born 1882; Neva, born 1885; and Carl, born 1888. Beulah died during 1889 at the age of 6 and, during 1894, Jessie gave birth to a little boy who died as an infant without being named. Beulah and the little boy were buried in the Chariton Cemetery and those graves would tie the Needhams to Lucas County even though the rest of their lives were spent elsewere. 

Mr. Needham went into partnership during 1893 with Joseph F. Spiker Jr. in a grocery and feed store, but the partnership was dissolved without prejudice as his health continued to deteriorate. During September of 1894, the family moved to California, hoping the climate there might help.

But it didn't and so the family moved back to Iowa, settling in Clarinda in order to be near his family, then living in or near Shenandoah. His obituary, published in The Chariton Democrat of Dec. 17, 1896, tells the rest of the story:


DIED --- At Shenandoah, Iowa, Saturday, December 12, 1896, of consumption, Jerome H. Needham, aged 41 years, 4 months and 8 days.

Deceased was a native of Indiana and a son of John and Mary Needham. He was married at Afton, Iowa, December 31, 1880, to Miss Jessie Hayes, who survives him, together with one daughter and two sons. Beulah, the first born, died at the age of six years.

The first seven years of their married life were passed in Grant City, Missouri. Nine years ago they came to Chariton to live, remaining until 1894, Mr. Needham being engaged in photography.

Ill health compelled him to seek the health and vigor he so much desired, and the family tried the climate of sunny California for a year, returning to Iowa about a year ago, little if any improved.

With true manly grit he plied his skill and artistic taste in a photograph gallery at Clarinda for a time, afterwards moving to Shenandoah to be with his parents and brother during the closing days of his life.

Since 1884 Mr. Needham had been identified with the Christian church, both of Grant City and of Chariton. He enjoyed the church work and loved to encourage truth and right. His family were ever in his mind, and though it was sad to say goodbye, he kept an abiding trust in his Master and expressed his readiness to depart.

The remains were accompanied to Chariton by his young widow, his brother, Josiah Needham and wife; a sister, Mrs. Susan J. Wiles, of Des Moines, reaching here too late for the funeral which occurred Monday afternoon from the Chariton church. Elder A. R. Caudle, assisted by Rev. G. W. Roderick, of the Methodist church, conducted the services and the remains were laid to rest in the family lot by the side of his two children.

The universal esteem for Mr. Needham and his family by Chariton people was manifested in the large number assembled to pay the last tribute of respect at the bier. May the Father of the fatherless sustain and comfort the bereaved mother and children in their affliction.


The Needhams' youngest child, Frank, was born at Clarinda during April of 1896 and was only a few months old at the time of his father's death.

Although her husband's life had been cut short, Jessie lived long --- passing during 1953 at the age of 90 in South Carolina where her son, Frank, had settled. Daughter Neva (Needham) Johnson had died during 1947 in California. The ashes of both Neva and Jessie were brought to Chariton for burial. The graves of all five family members now are marked by a single tombstone in the northwest portion of the cemetery.

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