Women’s History Month: Mary Bayard Morgan Wootten

[This blog post was written by Kim Andersen, Audio Visual Materials Archivist in the Special Collections Section of the State Archives of North Carolina.]

It’s Women’s History month! Today we highlight photographer Bayard Wootten.

Bayard Wootten posing near sand dunes at Nags head, NC,

Bayard Wootten posing near sand dunes at Nags head, NC, Dare County, c.1920’s. Courtesy Ms Louise Morgan, Brevard, NC. (N_95_1_68) From the General Negatives, State Archives of NC.

Mary Bayard Morgan Wootten (1875–1959) was an American photographer and pioneering suffragist born in New Bern, N.C. Also a competent painter, she is credited with designing the first trademarked logo for Pepsi-Cola. Wootten was adventurous and unflinching in all aspects of her life, especially business. She owned several photography studios and was known to set out on solo trips across the state in her 1920s Ford to photograph North Carolina’s people and landscapes.  She continued to photograph well into her seventies and operated her photo studio until 1954. A trailblazer for women photographers in the South, Wootten overcame economic hardship, gender discrimination, and the obscurity of a small-town upbringing to become the state’s most significant early female photographer. She died in 1959 in Chapel Hill at the age of 83.

Wootten was adventurous in finding new angles for images, once dangling off a cliff to take the perfect photograph of Linville Falls. In 1914 she became one of the first female photographers to engage in aerial photography when she flew in an open-air Wright Brothers Model B airplane and took pictures of the landscape below.  She was also the first woman in the North Carolina National Guard.

Photographer Bayard Wootten with camera in front of cypress tree in Great Lake, Craven County, NC, 1909

Photographer Bayard Wootten with camera in front of cypress tree in Great Lake, Craven County, NC, 1909. Photo by H. H. Brimley. (PhC42_Bx16_Great Lake_F1-2) From the H. H. Brimley Photo Collection, PhC.42, State Archives of NC.

Originally trained as an artist, Wootten worked in photography’s pictorial tradition, emphasizing artistic effect in her images at a time when realistic and documentary photography increasingly dominated the medium. Traveling throughout North Carolina and surrounding states, she turned the artistry of her eye and lens on the people and places she encountered and is perhaps best known for her photographs of people living in impoverished rural areas in her home state of North Carolina.

Many of her photographs were used as illustrations for six books, including Backwoods America by Charles Morrow Wilson, 1934; Cabins in the Laurel by Muriel Sheppard, 1935; Old Homes and Gardens of North Carolina by Archibald Henderson, 1939; and From My Highest Hill by Olive Tilford Dargan, 1941.  UNC-Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library is home to the Bayard Morgan Wootten Photographic Collection which includes over 90,000 images and other materials created by Bayard Morgan Wootten and the Wootten-Moulton studios. Formats include glass negatives, film negatives, photographic prints, lantern slides, artwork, and some manuscript materials.  The State Archives of North Carolina houses only a few copies of some pieces of her work, but is fortunate to have several original photographs of Wootten working with H. H. Brimley photographing in eastern North Carolina in the first decade of the 20th century.

For more complete biographical information on Bayard Wootten, please see: