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Jessie Bisbee

Courtesy Photo

TWIN FALLS • If you know much about early Twin Falls history, you know the name Clarence Bisbee. With few writings to document the city’s beginnings, Bisbee’s photographs provide a glimpse into life here a century ago.

But what about the woman behind Magic Valley’s best-known photographer? What about Clarence’s wife, Jessie?

“Most people are aware of Clarence, but I’ve never seen much about Jessie,” said librarian Mareda Wright, Twin Falls Public Library’s local historian. “That’s what intrigued me to find out about the personal life ofMrs. Bisbee.”

For the past nine months, Wright has delved into Jessie’s journals, researching a woman who moved here in 1910 at 26 and became what the librarian calls “a backbone of the community.”

Wright will share her findings next week at a presentation, “Life and Art Are One:Jessie Bisbee, Her Husband Clarence, and the Historical Photography of the Magic Valley,” at the Twin Falls Public Library. It’s one of several events the library is hosting to celebrate National Library Week.

For Wright, researching Jessie, a prolific journal writer, has been a fascinating journey. She learned not just about the Bisbees, but about the infant Twin Falls.

“These people, when they came here in the early 1900s, they were so busy trying to get water to their land and educate their children, they didn’t have time to write,”Wright said.

But Jessie found time. Often a daily writer, she at least wrote weekly, detailing her activities and interests. She talked about camping trips and her husband’s photography business.

“Many times she’d just write her thoughts and what they were doing on scraps of paper,” said Wright, noting the scraps were collected and combined in a journal.

Wright discovered that the college-educated Jessie was a poet, a published magazine writer and a nature lover who knew the Latin names of plants, and that she was fond of animals and children. Jessie was also a photographer in her right.

“In many of the photos, Clarence was the main subject, so we know she took some of the photos,”said Wright of promotional images sent throughout the country to entice people to move here.

On the personal side, Wright gained insights into Jessie’s marriage.

“She and her husband were very, very close,”Wright said. “They did everything together. Ithink they would’ve been wonderful parents, but unfortunately that wasn’t to be.”

Jessie never wrote about wanting to have children, Wright said, but she did talk about the couple’s financial troubles.

“It did weigh heavily on her mind,” Wright said, “but it didn’t consume her.”

Wright’s overall impression of Jessie?“I think she was a very delightful person, educated, someone I would’ve loved to have met.”

Bill Nichols, owner of Blip Printers, has worked for more than a decade with Clarence Bisbee’s photographs. His company scanned the negatives the library holds in its collection. Nichols plans to attend next week’s presentation and is interested to learn what Wright has uncovered about the couple who left behind a legacy of images.

“It’s the only real history of Twin Falls you can possibly find,” Nichols said of the Bisbee photos. “The pictures (show) very much what life was like in 1906.”


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