1900s Mug Shots Are A Fascinating Look Into The Shadowy Past

When we think of the early 1900s, we tend to imagine a time of etiquette, refinement, and some pretty amazing fashion. And that’s all true!
The early 1900s were also a time of rapidly changing technology and lifestyles, with the advents of electricity, automobiles, and skyscrapers. It was also a time of social reforms with updates in sanitation laws, medicine, and labor.
But while celebrating the past is great, there were of course less-than-pleasant aspects of it.
While the early 1900s brought us charming traditions likeoutdoor classrooms to give kids a love of nature, they also had a seedier element. We’re talking about criminals, of course.
However, with the advent of photography in the 1800s and advancing technology making it more available, a new tradition was starting in police stations — the mug shot.
Today, seeing the glum face of someone who’s been arrested is pretty common on the news, but prior to cameras, it was impossible to have a record of a criminal’s appearance with the exception of sketch artists.
The Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums recently released a collection of mug shots from the very early 1900s, featuring a collection of female criminals, mainly arrested for petty theft.
Though we don’t have much information on these women, their police photos are fascinating, and you can’t help but wonder what their stories were, and what drove them to criminal acts.
Check them out below, and if you happen to know anything about the photos, drop us a line!
[H/T: UfunkDaily Mail]
These mug shots were collected by the Tyne & Wear Museums in England, and show a photographic police record from the English town of North Reading, all from between 1903 and 1905.
North Shields had historically been a fishing village, but with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, become a center for the shipbuilding industry.
Similar to mug shots of today, the accused hold up a sign with their name, the crime they were accused of, the location, and the date.
In this time, the information would be handwritten on a small chalkboard that could then be wiped down and reused.
The women seen in this collection were all arrested for stealing. Some only specify “larceny,” while others go more into detail.
For example, Jane Thompson here was arrested for stealing a pair of boots on July 13, 1904.
It’s also fascinating to look at their faces. Some look upset, ashamed, or guilty, while others seem to be smirking, like Catherine O’Brien.
But we’ll likely never really know their stories, or why they started stealing to begin with, or even if they were guilty of their alleged crimes or not.
While advancements were being made during this time, there were still very strict class divides that resulted in many people living in poverty.
And desperate women might have resorted to stealing to make ends meet.
But then, not all of the women, based on their dress, look to be poor. Susannah Adamson, pictured here, looks rather well-to-do, but was arrested for stealing all the same.
But then again, we’ll never know.
You can also see the traditional elements of photography here, too. Even though it’s a mug shot, there’s still a tasteful drape backdrop.
And of course the penmanship on the signs is superb.
Today, police around the world of course have more sophisticated ways of storing information on people they arrest, but it’s amazing to see its early days.
They aren’t the first mug shots, though. The first ever mug shots were taken between 1859 and 1876 in Bedfordshire, England, and included men and women.
These photos show a past that it at once familiar and distant, and reminds us that no matter when or where we live, there’s always more than meets the eye.
SHARE these fascinating pieces of history with anyone who likes to dig a little deeper into the past!