Recknagel, Friederike Caroline Elise Michaelis (1860–1956)

By: Kendall Curlee

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: April 26, 2016

Friederike (Fritzchen) Recknagel, amateur photographer, was born on February 29, 1860, at the Nassau Farm, near Round Top, Texas, the first of two daughters and three sons born to Theodor Wilhelm and Hedwig (Groos) Michaelis, both of whom had immigrated to the United States from Germany. Her images of nineteenth-century Round Top, her family, and her friends document German-American family and community life on the Texas frontier. She was educated at home and in the Nassau Farm community. On June 1, 1886, she married Edward Recknagel, who had immigrated to Texas from Germany in 1878. The couple settled in Round Top, where Recknagel operated a pharmacy until about 1915. They had one daughter. It is not known when or how Friederike Recknagel learned to take photographs, although the age of her daughter in a number of images indicates that she was proficient in her craft by the mid-1890s. She used glass-plate negatives to make images of striking clarity, eschewing the romantically soft tonality then popular among many photographers. Described by her grandson as "strong-willed and independent minded," she recorded the buildings, events, and people of Round Top. Of particular interest to historians are her photographs of buildings now gone, such as the imposing 2½-story stone home and boarding school built in 1865–66 for J. Adam Neuthard, then the pastor of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Another of her photographs reveals that a brick building that now houses offices and an antique store was the Round Top State Bank, which at that time sported a false front and a façade of punched tin. Mrs. Recknagel also recorded many domestic structures, ranging from a two-story Victorian-era wooden frame home to dogtrot log cabins. She photographed hogs being brought to market, the train passing through nearby Carmine, men hauling logs, and other events that shaped everyday life in the area. Other photographs capture more festive occasions, such as the signed and dated image of the 1895 Fourth of July parade in Round Top. Her portraits of a sharp-eyed dowager knitting a sock, a proud young man of Mexican descent beside his horse, and an impoverished family in front of their tiny home, attest to her skill in character studies. She also took several landscape shots, in which human figures are subsumed in a pattern of light and shade that verges on abstraction. Some sources have indicated that Friederike Recknagel wandered as far afield as Galveston to take pictures, although none of these images appear to have survived. Perhaps the most engaging group of photographs is a series of candid images in which she focused on her family and friends. Her photographs of her husband and daughter pelting each other with snowballs and trimming a Christmas tree offer a refreshing glimpse of family life, free of the stilted poses and self-conscious formality of most nineteenth-century photographs. Louise, the daughter, was a particularly charming model; in one photograph she cradles a log as if it were a doll while her father saws wood nearby, and in another she waded in a tub while a maidservant pumps water. Fritzchen also took a number of pictures of a neighbor, George August Edward Henkel, and his family. In one of the few pictures in which the photographer herself appears, examining her photographs with her husband and daughter, she presented herself in her various roles as a wife, mother, and photographer. She continued to photograph until 1916–17, at which time she and her husband moved to Burton. Friederike Recknagel lived alone for a few years after Edward's death in 1937 but then joined her daughter in Houston, where she died on December 31, 1956. She was buried beside her husband in the Florida Chapel Cemetery in Round Top. Her photographs are in the private collections of Edward W. Ahlrich and Faith Bybee; copies of her work may be found in the collections of the Winedale Historical Center in Round Top and the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio. Her photographs were exhibited in Frontier America: The Far West, a 1975 exhibition organized by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

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Frontier America: The Far West (Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1974). C. Jane Gover, The Positive Image: Women Photographers in Turn of the Century America (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988). Brett Harvey Vuolo, "Pioneer Diaries: The Untold Story of the West," Ms., May 1975.

  • Peoples
  • Germans
  • Visual Arts
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Photography
  • Women

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Kendall Curlee, “Recknagel, Friederike Caroline Elise Michaelis,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 09, 2022,

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June 1, 1995
April 26, 2016

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