Actual Victorian Witches. I Think. Maybe.

Victorian witches 1875

I love this photo because if you were to imagine the stereotypical look for witches in the 1800s, this is exactly what you’d conjure up. (That’s right, conjure.)

I found this on Pinterest — it’s only labeled “Witches 1875.” I did a Google image search to find the origins of this photo, but it mostly led me to more Pinterest pins with the same caption. One labeled it a tintype.

I can’t find anything on these ladies.

My instinct was these were actual practicing witches. Then I showed it to my husband, and he declared it too perfect — these were ladies dressed up as witches. And I said, But they look so serious! And he said, They’re in character. And so on.

And then I noticed one of them has a feather duster and a dustpan, which seems odd. Did she not have access to a full broom? Or maybe the feather duster had some significance to Victorian witches. Does the feather duster make her more or less likely to be a real witch?

And I don’t even know what’s in the lap of the middle ladies. Maybe a bird. I hope it’s alive, but I’m not holding my breath.

The backdrop seemed theater-y to me as well, but I’ve come across tintypes with these vague natural backdrops before. In fact, here’s a series of photos with a bunch of “occupational tintypes.” Perhaps the women in my photo are in the business of witchcraft?

If you search for “Victorian witches” on Google, it delivers a fair amount of both similar and not-so-similarly clad ladies. I think we can all agree that this lady is definitely not a witch.

retor 1800s witch

She’s either a theater geek, or she’s going to a fancy dress party as the world’s most melodramatic witch.

But what about the women in the top photo: Real witches or fake? What do you think?

And if you have any insight into the photo, please tell us about it! I’m dying to know!

P.S. You might also enjoy t 10 Sexy Vintage Halloween Costumes and Frankenstein having tea.

P.P.S. More fun retro photos here.

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  1. Great photos.
    Using what we know about the way “witches” were treated in the mid to late nineteenth century, my guess would be these are costumes worn to a fancy dress ball or for Hallowe’en.
    Any woman who actually was a witch would not call attention to herself by dressing in such a way – it would invite ostracism, shunning, ridicule – and worse. It would be far more likely than any witches would look extremely average and not out of the ordinary.
    Just my thoughts and opinons of course! LOL
    Thanks for the great photos.

    • Retroette

      Thanks for the info, Tristan! It occurred to me too that this probably wasn’t the friendliest time period for witches. What I was less sure of was access to photographers and how easy/hard it would be to get a photograph taken without calling attention to yourselves. Also, I wondered if these ladies were a little highfalutin for real witches, who seem almost more like gypsies from what I can gather of the time period. But I SO want them to be real witches! It would be more fun!

  2. Danielle McKeon

    i had the same thought, no one was calling attention to themselves if they were actually practicing witch craft. Most of the witches of Salem, MA were victims of local politics. You think it’s nutty now…

  3. Marie

    Everybody in old-timey photos looks serious. You had to stay still for ages. . 5 or 10 minutes? . .for the photo to come out. Nobody can hold a smile that long, although broom-witch did pretty good.

    • Retroette

      Good point. The lady holding the bird-like thing did a good job too imo. She’s got a Mona Lisa smile type thing going on.

  4. HL

    It looks to me like they aren’t witches or even dressed as witches. While the two on the ends are wearing wide-brimmed hats, if you look carefully, they aren’t pointed “witch hats.” Just regular hats. Their theme seems to be “cleaning,” although the dresses look awfully nice for them to be actual maids. I’m guessing what looks like a bird in the middle is actually a rag / some kind of cleaning-related tool.

    • Retroette

      That’s an intriguing theory! I noticed their hats weren’t pointed, but I wasn’t confident that real witches EVER had pointed hats, so that didn’t phase me. But them being maids does go along with the occupational tintypes I’m talking about as well. i agree that they’re dresses seem nice for cleaning, but maybe they wore their best dresses for the photo? Thanks so much for weighing in!

  5. Catherine

    I love your blog! I also figured “cleaning ladies” for this one (not that they would have worn these dresses to clean in, as you noted–but then, I wouldn’t expect them to wear their ugly ratty cleaning dresses for a photo, either!). And I would guess, from the way they are holding the furry/feathery thing in Mona Lisa’s lap still with at least three hands, that it was alive and they were trying to prevent it from wriggling/flying away.

    • Retroette

      Thanks, so much, Catherine — glad you’re enjoying my blog. And that’s a good point about the clothes. If it was an occupational photo, they’d probably opt for clothes a little nicer than what they clean in. But why in the world would cleaning ladies bring an owl or some-such with them to be photographed? So mysterious!

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