Adventurous woman and innovative entrepreneur, Ruth Rust has operated her own photography studio for decades in downtown Jefferson City. At one point, she was the only woman in the country to be the official state photographer.
Although she brought a feminine touch to the interior of her studio and was particularly adept at working with portraits of children, Rust also served the Missouri legislature and state officials from 1925 to 1944.
She provided space in her studio, upstairs at 210 E. High St., in the Dallmeyer Building, for women’s groups to meet and organize exhibitions. She was also not afraid to stand up to the system and challenge the city’s laws.
Rust arrived in Jefferson City in 1921, when she purchased the studio operated by Thomas Jack Simcoe. It is likely that Simcoe contacted Rust after posting an ad in Abel’s Photographic Weekly: “A versatile photographer would like a studio position that could be purchased later; or rent a studio that would later be for sale. City of 5,000 residents. or more. Central states preferred. “
Her studio had already seen more than 50 years of prestige in the capital as “the official studio of state officers and legislators”, when she entered 210 E. High St., or on the second floor of the building. Dallmeyer.
The location was first the studio of F. Gustave Suden, known for his souvenir sketchbook from 1890, who was the photographer for the General Assembly from 1885 until about 1902.
The Dallmeyer Building studio passed to LF Miller, then to Ford and finally to Simcoe. Thus, Rust adopted a heritage for quality photography and a sufficiently high standard for government officials.
She was the only woman to serve as a state photographer in 1935, and probably many other early years.
Rust also had the privilege of taking the first contemporary photo of the Senate, which was hung in the new Capitol when it moved in and was published in the Secretary of State’s Blue Book.
Oddly, Rep. Edward M. Brady of St. Louis in 1935 declined to sit with Rust for the 58th General Assembly group photo, offering no specific reason for his refusal.
“He is the first lawmaker in her experience to refuse to be photographed,” she said.
Rust was introduced to photography by his older sister, Jennie, who was South Texas’s first female photographer. In 1910 Rust had a studio in Buffalo, and in 1918 she moved her operation to Montezuma, Iowa.
A few years later, the 34-year-old arrived in Jefferson City. Other local photographers at the time included Ruby Weeks, Carl F. Deeg, Clara Rackers, and Thomas G. Cooper.
One of his first advertisements in September 1921 read: “Miss Ruth Rust, the photographer, has done a special study to photograph the little people and has the patience needed for this job.”
Within months, she also added a Kodak Photo Finisher, enabling next day pickup for 132a E. High St. customers, which she shared with Weeks.
She was “always attentive to the new possibilities of her chosen vocation,” the newspaper said.
In 1923, local newspapers had not yet added photography to their usual design. Many of her portraits have been featured on society’s pages of local ladies announcing weddings, birthdays and positions in organizations. She also took photos of dance troupes and organizations. The Kansas City Star, even, has taken over some of its work.
After three years in business in the capital, Rust was featured in the Kansas City Star’s Women in Business column. The headline called photography “the ideal business for women.”
Although her business is booming with state officials, candidates and notables visiting Capitol Hill, Rust “takes pride in handling the affairs of women and children,” according to the article. “Miss Rust’s studio is clearly a manless affair. Its employees are women; and the studio decorations and furnishings suggest the feminine.”
Her work with children began with photos of young people, extended to Girl Scout Camp lessons in outdoor photography, and included the Jefferson City high school yearbook, the Marcullus.
“The quality of the photographic work produced by Miss Rust and her knowledgeable assistant, Miss Anne Milliken, was recognized throughout central Missouri and was also instrumental in securing laurels for the local school publication during of contests held across the state and nation, “Daily Capital News said in 1928.
She also worked for the Simonsenian staff to help provide a souvenir edition of the college newspaper. And, Rust would provide the public with photographic plaques of special events, such as those of individual floats participating in the annual May 1 and Health Day parade.
Today, along the limestone corridors of the Capitol, Rust’s name and work survive on several composite frames of the House and Senate.
Michelle Brooks is a former reporter for the Jefferson City News Tribune. Her first book, Hidden History of Jefferson City “is released on July 19. An expanded version of this story can be found in her second book,” Women of the Capital City “.