photo of Theodore Dreiser?

Above are two photographs which, after some thought, I believe are of Theodore Dreiser. As far as I know, they are unique and have not been published or posted before.

One Dreiser scholar whom I have already consulted feels certain that it is not Theodore Dreiser who is shown here. The scholar replied as follows in an email to me:

Doesn’t look like him to me. For that age, the photo is too heavy set a person, among many other things. Check out all the photos at Penn in the Dreiser collection; nothing remotely like this.

These two photos were sent me by a descendant of Dreiser’s maternal grandmother. She has a lot of precious family photos, several of which seem to be unique, including photos of Theodore Dreiser; Helen (Richardson) Dreiser and her family; and Paul Dresser.

There were four photos purportedly of Theodore Dreiser which she sent me, along with the others of the Dreiser family and those of Helen Richardson’s ancestors and relatives. Of those four photos, two (not shown above) are definitely of Theodore Dreiser.

Given that the two above photos come from a family collection, one wonders: if it’s not Theodore Dreiser, who could it be? Some consideration should also be given to the fact that the owner of the photo has always understood that it was a photo of Theodore Dreiser.

— Roger W. Smith

      December 2016


: Regarding the “fact” that “Dreiser” doesn’t quite look like himself here, I can’t help thinking of a passport of photo of myself that was taken when I was age 25 and was making my first trip to Europe. The photographer who took my passport photo was offputting and overbearing. He insisted that I take off my glasses. In the photo, I hardly looked like myself, perhaps because I was uncomfortable. I showed the photo to a good friend of mine. He insisted it was not me. When I was traveling, I had trouble at border crossings with customs officials who thought it was someone else’s photo.


Addendum: For comparison purposes, I have posted below a collage of photos of Dreiser as a young man.

3 thoughts on “photo of Theodore Dreiser?

  1. Roger's Gleanings Post author

    Thank you for the comment, Carol. You and I seem to be in a minority, but I believe you are right. This photo was among a batch of family photos in the possession of a descendant. If it’s not Theodore, who else could it be?


  2. Donna Campbell

    I’d say it isn’t Dreiser. Many features can change (such as the eyebrows) from photo to photo, but the ears apparently don’t. The attached earlobe of the man in the photograph doesn’t match any of those in the Dreiser pictures. Thanks for posting this, though.


    1. Tamie Dehler

      I agree with Donna’s post. It is said that one of the best ways to identify a person over time is the ears. They may grow bigger with time, but they do not change basic shape and structure. All of the known pictures of Theodore Dreiser show that he had unattached earlobes. But the man in the mystery photo definitely has attached earlobes. No match. That’s genetic. I would add a few other points. The hair line. Dreiser in all of the other posted photos, even over time and throughout his life, has a hairline that came to a kind of “point” on the sides of his forehead. The mystery photo has a smooth, receding hairline. No match. Next I would point out the jaw line at the chin. Dreiser had kind of a smallish chin with a definite roundish look under the lip line; this feature is visible in his photos over time. The man in the mystery photo has a larger chin that is smooth and doesn’t show this roundish feature. That’s bone structure. No match. Now look at the eyebrows. Dreiser has a relatively straight brow line and his eyebrows, medium to heavy, are set close above his eyes. The man in the mystery photo has more sculptured eyebrows that are arched and set much higher above his eyes. Not a match. Finally, I would point out the suit or outfit that the man in the mystery photo is wearing. I just have a sense that this clothing is pre-1890s. Certainly no later. But we already have a known photo of Dreiser in the 1890s, that is posted. Dreiser in the 1890s, while resembling the mystery man, did not look like him enough for it to be a match. So my judgement is, while the man in the mystery photo, at first glance, looks quite a bit like Theodore Dreiser, especially through the lips and nose, it is not. That said, I do think that this picture will prove to be a Dreiser relative. Things to research to untangle this mystery should start with the physical photograph itself. What words, dates, or markings are on it? Name of photo studio? Where was it located? How long was it in business? Then determine the date of the clothing style this man was wearing. Knowing the date of the photograph (and place taken) is the first step. Then look into all of the male relatives that would have been in the mystery man’s approximate age range at that date. Could it be a brother, cousin, or uncle? I’m thinking one of these relatives will end up being the mystery man.



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