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Glenalvin J. Goodridge


Born: 7 February 1829, York, Pennsylvania USA

Died: 14 November 1867, Minneapolis, Minnesota USA

There is no certified photographic or rendered likeness of Glenalvin J. Goodridge. The photograph above shows how the northeast corner of Front & Locust Streets, Columbia, Pennsylvania appeared a few decades after Glenalvin took rooms on the third floor for the expansion of his photographic enterprise: The American Photographic Gallery. But, Glenalvin's time in Columbia lasted only about a year. The story is sad and unfortunate. But, Glenalvin's story can't be told without understanding some context.

Glenalvin's father, William C. Goodridge, was the grandson of an unknown slave woman owned by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland. She bore a daughter, Emily, sometime in the 1780s. Emily became pregnant in early 1806. The father can only be surmised. On December 23rd of that year, Emily bore William, of whom she (or, the father) assigned the surname of Goodridge. Because William was a mulatto he was indentured rather than sold. William ended up in York, Pennsylvania with Michael Dunn, a tanner and occasional minister. Dunn eventually became bankrupt, leaving William on his own. William Goodridge found work where he could and eventually married Evalina Wallace of Baltimore. They settled in York where they started a family, the first being Glenalvin.


William and Evalina did well by their children, seeing that they were formally educated at St. Francis Academy in Baltimore. Indeed, showing great promise and intellect at nineteen, Glenalvin began a teaching career. The entire William Goodridge family was soon considered among eastern Pennsylvania's African American elite. They flourished in business and community. They worked hard and were inventive about it. William and Evalina steadily grew their business empire and the children benefitted. 

Among others, the Goodridge's rented space in their complex of China Hall (southeaster corner of Centre Square, York) to Virginian Joseph Reinhart, an itinerant daguerreotypist. He was known for recorded the likenesses of Daniel Webster and Capt. Daniel Walker, company commander of Texas Rangers. He also offered instructions in the art of photographic imagery of the day. Quickly, that attracted the popular schoolteacher, Glenalvin. It wasn't long until Glenalvin took over Reinhart's studio and transformed it into "Goodridge's Daguerrian Rooms." Glenalvin was hooked. 


As it turned out, Glenalvin J. Goodridge was among the first 5 or 6 African Americans to have worked in photography before 1850. When he began in 1847, he was not only among the earliest working photographers, he quickly became extremely  good at it—constantly improving his technique and artistry. But, like so many business pursuits, the years following had its up and downs. Still, Glenalvin always sprung back. After at least one brother began to assist in the business, things became so promising that, in 1861, he decided to open another branch to his successful enterprise... this time, in Columbia, Pennsylvania. 

Shortly thereafter, his life was turned up-side-down. A woman of questionable repute accused Glenalvin of a serious impropriety while visiting his York studio three months earlier. Despite evidence to the contrary, he was convicted and sent to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. His time in Columbia was less than a year. He was sentenced to 15 years behind bars, but due to his father's Herculean efforts to pull in favors from those in power, his sentence was reduced to five years. It wasn't enough. After almost two years serving his time, he was eventually pardoned due to his failing health. He was released only after promising to leave the state. He had no choice but to agree. 

As his siblings (Mary, Wallace and William) had already left the area for the Saginaw, Michigan area, he joined them. Glenalvin J. Goodridge died from complications of tuberculosis less than two years after arriving. During the summer of 1863, his brother Wallace had reestablished the family studio in East Saginaw. The studio continued to create wonderful images until Wallace's death in 1922. 

Glenalvin's story is rich, deep and profound. That story deserves to be told in detail but not in the space afforded here.  Indeed, Glenalvin's life is ripe for a biopic or mini-series. The trial, alone, would make for drama bordering on disbelief. His life was  fraught with darkness and distress. But, today, it's  also a joyous demonstration of the human spirit. In the end, we should consider his challenges, certainly, but emphasize the beauty and depth of his output. 

Glenalvin took this portrait of his
wife, Rhoda Cornelia Grey, in 1859, using a cutting-edge ambrotype process.

A typical advertisement

when Glenalvin first

established his studio

in York, Pennsylvania.

A promotional image by

the Goodridge Bros.

after they moved to

East Saginaw, Michigan.

Wallace and William sit

in the front seats.

Some say the image in

the lower right could be

Glenalvin as a tribute.

A photograph attributed

to have been taken by Glenalvin. Some suspect that it could be a self-portrait or  may have

been taken by one of his brothers.


Dangerous Opportunity: Glenalvin J. Goodridge and Early Photography in York, Pennsylvania by John V. Jezierski, 2002

Enterprising Images: The Goodridge Brothers, African American Photographers, 1847-1922, by John V. Jezierski, 2000

William C Goodridge Freedom Center & Underground Railroad Museum, Alison Renner, Curator of Photography

Photo of Rhoda Cornelia Grey, Courtesty Smithsonian American Art Museum, LJ West Collection of Early African American Photography

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