Ruth Matilda Anderson

1893, Phelps County, Nebraska – 1983, New York, New York

Ruth Matilda Anderson was an American photographer who traveled in the 1920s to document Spanish culture for The Hispanic Society of America. During this decade, she made five working trips to Spain beginning when she was age 30. Her first trip was with a nationwide tour of Spain, March 17 to July 3, 1923, and followed by travel to Galicia and Asturias, July 29, 1924 to August 28, 1925; Leon and Galicia, November 14, 1925 to May 31, 1926; Extremadura and Castilla, December 29, 1927 to April 28, 1928; and Castile, Leon, and Andalusia from October 5, 1929 to November 17, 1930.

In all, Ruth took 10,000 images of Spanish people, places, and genre scenes such as people at work and doing domestic chores, children at play, and holiday customs. The Ruth Anderson Collection became part of the archives of The Hispanic Society.

Ruth’s father, Alfred T. Anderson, accompanied her on the first trip to Spain. They toured in a rented Ford with a French driver, and also traveled by horses, boats and ‘on foot.’ Along the way, they improvised dark rooms to develop photos. Her father kept a diary, which provided valuable notes for later photo documentation. Ruth also took Spanish language lessons.

In addition to receiving respect from her colleagues in New York City, Ruth also had prideful attention in her hometown of Kearney, Nebraska. She grew up there as the eldest of three daughters of Alma Matilda and Alfred Theodore Anderson. A Kearney Hub newspaper article of the late 1960s by Carol Lomicky described a reunion of the three sisters, with descriptions of each of them as adults, of their parents, and especially of their ongoing affection and enjoyment of each other. This gathering was at the family home at 918 West 22nd Street where the parents had lived the last 40 years of their lives. The mother was recalled as a “quiet artistic” woman who liked to paint, and the father as an “energetic, talented man” and a good photographer. At the time of this gathering, Ruth, unmarried, was near retirement in New York as Curator of Costumes at The Hispanic Society. Miriam ‘Mim’ Anderson Worlock, two years younger than Ruth, was living in the family home in Kearney and was known for her skills as a plein-air impressionist painter and as a teacher of Latin and music. Eighteen years younger than Mim was Elizabeth Anderson Udall, a senior lecturer in the Linguistics Department at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. While a student at Barnard College in New York City, Elizabeth lived with her much older sister, Ruth. Because of their age difference, this was when they had the opportunity to become closer.

Ruth’s interest in cameras began in her childhood when she learned photographic skills from her father whose Kearney business was commercial portrait and landscape photography. Her formal education included a year at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, followed by enrollment at Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney (now University of Nebraska at Kearney) where she graduated in 1915. There the curriculum was directed to training teachers, but Ruth had no inclination to work in the classroom. She returned to Lincoln to study for one semester again at the University of Nebraska, and then moved to New York City, where in 1919, she graduated from the Clarence H. White School of Photography. This school was the first institution in America dedicated to teaching photography as an art form. This was a departure from ‘picture taking,’ which to that time was associated with simply pressing a button on a box camera, whose output was mostly used for personal photo album records of family and places traveled. Instead, the Clarence White School opened doors to photography with aesthetic values while at the same time creating documentary imagery.

The Clarence White School classes were based on theories of photo secession, a concept introduced by White’s friend, Alfred Stieglitz, from his Gallery 21 on Fifth Avenue. Because of exposure to these avant-garde methods, Ruth was able to create images that reflected the quality of her education with White such as facile use of a complex camera, special effects with dark room manipulations, and smart choices for subjects that ‘held the eye’ and told a story that transcended the moment. Her photograph, Clarence H. White, is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

After graduation from the White School, she was hired in 1921 to work at The Hispanic Society of America Museum and Library to update their photography techniques. Her supervisor was Archer Milton Huntington, a scholar of Spanish studies, stepson of railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington, and founder in 1904 of The Hispanic Society Museum and Library. In 1922, with Huntington’s recommendation, Ruth was promoted to Curator of Photography, which led to her field trips to Spain.

In 1930, with the main travel part of the project over, Ruth focused on the study of Spanish costumes, making several more trips to Spain in search of related information and photo images. In 1954 she was appointed Curator of Costumes of The Hispanic Society, a position she held until her retirement. During her 60 years with the The Hispanic Society Museum and Library, she authored and co-authored several books including: Costumes Painted by Sorolla in his Provinces of Spain; In the Lands of ExtremaduraRuth Mathilda Anderson’s Photographs of Western Spain for the Hispanic Society; and Images in Procession: Testimonies to Spanish Faith.

Ruth Matilda Anderson died on May 20, 1983 in New York City, and is buried in the Kearney Cemetery in Kearney, Nebraska.

Ruth Anderson is not represented in the Museum of Nebraska Art collection.


“A los 90 anos de la visita de Ruth Matilda Anderson a Galicia,” La Voz de Galicia, Web, Dec. 2014; Google Translation, Web, May 2016, May 2016
“Anderson, Ruth Matilda”, Library of Congress, Web, Dec. 2016
“Archer Milton Huntington,” Wikipedia, Web, May 2016, Biography on Clarence H. White, and Glossary, “Pictorial Photographers of America”, May 2016
Find A, May 2016
Kearney Hub newspaper: 05/21/1983
Museum of Nebraska Art files: Kearney Hub, newspaper: undated article, Lomicky, Carol, “Sisters Spend Summer in their Home Town”; Teliza V. Rodriguez, Curator, general information, 2014
Museum of Nebraska Art files: Biography of Mim Worlock by Josephine Martins, Curator for Women Artists from the MONA Collection exhibition, 2003
“Portrait of Clarence H. White,” by Ruth Matilda Anderson, gelatin silver print, 1919, Photograph Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Met, Web, May 2016
“Prints and Photographs,” The Hispanic Society of America, Web, May 2016
“Ruth Matilda Anderson and her photographs of Costa da Morte in the 20s,” Costa Da Morte Car tours videos and photos, Web, May 2016
“Ruth Matilda Anderson,” Wikipedia, Web, May 2016

Researched, written, and copyrighted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier

Museum of Nebraska Art Project:
Their Place, Their Time: Women Artists in Nebraska, 1825-1945