E. Lennie (1818 – Unknown)
E. Lennie is the acronym used by Eliza Lennie (1818 – unknown) who was a successful 19th century business owner and optician in Edinburgh, Scotland. Eliza opened Lennie Optician in 1840 with her husband James Lennie and sold a variety of scientific instruments such as photographic equipment, stereographs, telescopes, and microscopes. In 1854 James Lennie died, leaving Eliza to care for their seven children alone as the sole breadwinner for the family. For the next three years Eliza would practice as Master Optician, running Lennie Optician independently under the pseudonym of her husband’s name, J. Lennie. This is a documented practice used by Victorian woman to avoid the sexist prejudice applied to a woman’s name.
In 1856 Eliza had begun to transition into practicing under her own name, sending a “large assortment of stereotypes and stereoscopic views” to the 1856 Photographic Society exhibition under the name Mrs E. Lennie. One year later the business would be registered under her own name, becoming E. Lennie Opticians; Eliza ran the business independently for another fifteen years, before marrying James Taylor – a fellow optician – in 1872. Despite now being married, E. Lennie had become well respected in her field, and E. Lennie Opticians remained firmly her business, with all variety of interesting stereographs and scientific instruments being marked with the name E. Lennie.
It is difficult to know exactly which images where taken by E. Lennie, as she sold a variety of stereographs created by herself and other photographers. This is made more difficult by her use of her husband’s name, and the gender-neutral acronym of her name, which could be causing a mis-gendering of ‘he/him’ under stereographs documented as photographed by ‘E. Lennie’. Regardless of this uncertainty E. Lennie was a remarkably talented and respected businesswoman, and an influential figure in Scotland’s photographic history, with a keen understanding of emerging scientific and photographic technologies.
By Martha Gray