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Photo of photographer Theodosia Chase

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Photographer and artist Theodosia Chase (1875-1972) was a librarian at the old stone Southworth Library in Padanaram, where she sold her photo postcards of residences, children and animals. She eventually opened her own studio on Hamilton Street behind the New Bedford Whaling Museum where she sold sketches, paintings, and postcards. Her postcard views included Padanaram, Nonquitt, Salters Point, and the New Bedford waterfront.

All those familiar photographs of the South Dartmouth area can now be identified as the work of Theodosia Chase (1875-1972). The recent discovery of a privately owned album of her real photo postcards confirms that these are her work. Dartmouth historians are grateful for the amount of photographic documentation of the town and its buildings that she provided in the first half of the 20th century.

Rev. David Rankin summed up the life of Miss Chase in his eulogy:

“Let it be known that she was a strange and beloved member of our community;
and she was frank and honest and direct, that she was proud and independent, that
she was a mystery to all who knew her.

Let it be known that she was self-supporting, that she worked as a librarian in
Dartmouth, that she owned a shop on the waterfront, that she loved to paint and
take photographs of everything in sight.

. . . she was intelligent and sensitive, she loved to read . . . [she] never quite fit in
with the normal routine of life—lived as she wished to live, in her own way, in
her own style and at her own remarkable pace.”

Theodosia Chase was born in Orange, Massachusetts on November 9, 1875. Her family soon moved to New Bedford, the city she called home. For many years she lived in the house that was located in what is now the garden of the Unitarian Church at the corner of Union and County Streets. Her parents, Ephraim and Caroline Potter Chase, recognized early that she had artistic talent. After high school, Theodosia attended Swain School in New Bedford, taking morning classes there; she spent her afternoons at the O’Neil Photo Studio learning to retouch photographs.

Theodosia Chase served as librarian in the old stone Southworth Library in Padanaram, beginning at the time it was a private library. While working there, she continued to pursue her love of photography. She was well situated to sell her photo postcards while working there as this advertisement indicates:


Is prepared to make

Post Cards of Residences

Also of Children and Animals out-of-doors. Orders for Place

Cards, Holiday Novelties, etc. taken.

Southworth Library, South Dartmouth

An ink drawing depicting a saltworks by a river.
Saltworks, by Theodosia Potter Chase, pen and ink on paper, from the New Bedford Whaling Museum Collection, 00.173.1.
It is evident from the postcards remaining today that she served a wide clientele. She documented sailing races in the upper Padanaram harbor, no doubt with intent to sell those postcards to the participants. She took photos of many large homes and properties in South Dartmouth, including the Schultz estate at the head of that harbor. She also apparently was a favorite of the residents of the Nonquitt community, where she took art lessons, because she made an inordinate number of views of that area. Her postcard views continue down the shoreline, to the community at Salters Point. Very few postcard views of New Bedford locations exist, but waterfront scenes there seemed to be a favorite of hers for sketching.

In 1927 she left the library to establish her own studio on Hamilton Street behind the New Bedford Whaling Museum where she sold sketches, paintings, and postcards. The Museum has in its collection several sketches by Theodosia. A few of her watercolors are held in private hands, but it is unclear what happened to the majority of works displayed in her studio when it was closed, including the oil portraits for which she won a prize at Swain School.

As the infirmities of old age intruded, she moved from her home on Newton Street to Rol-Ann Nursing Home, where she continued to paint until the last two years of her life. Theodosia Chase died on January 4, 1972 at the age of 96 and was buried in Rural Cemetery in New Bedford.

Judith N. Lund

Theodosia Chase’s illustration, Saltworks, is on display at New Bedford Whaling Museum as a part of the Re/Framing the View: Nineteenth-century American Landscapes exhibition through May 14, 2023.

Information from

  • Blasdale, Mary Jean. Artists of New Bedford: A Biographical Dictionary. New Bedford Whaling Museum / Old Dartmouth Historical Society, 1990.

  • Branco, David. “Longtime City Artist, Photographer, Is Buried.” The Standard-Times [New Bedford] 7 Jan. 1972.

  • Glennon, Beverly Morrison, and Judith Navas Lund. Greetings from Dartmouth: A Postcard History. Garrison Wall Publishers, 1993.

  • Slade, Margery A. “Theodosia Chase, a Classic Yankee, Is Talented Artist with Pen, Brush, Lens.” The Standard-Times [New Bedford] 25 July 1965.

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