Rufus W. Holsinger

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Rufus W. Holsinger
1906-Holsinger, Rufus.JPG
Self-portrait, ca. 1906

Electoral District First Ward
Term Start 1906
Term End 1912
Preceded by R. T. W. Duke, Jr.
Succeeded by M. V. Pence

Vice-president of the
Charlottesville City Council
Electoral District Selected by the city council
Term Start 1906
Term End 1908
Preceded by Henry D. Jarman
Succeeded by Edward A. Balz

Electoral District Selected by the city council
Term Start 1910
Term End 1912
Preceded by Fred W. Twyman
Succeeded by Henry D. Jarman

Biographical Information

Date of birth February 22, 1865
Date of death October 8, 1931 (aged 66)
Place of birth Bedford County, Pennsylvania
Place of death Charlottesville, Virginia
Spouse "Sadie" Holsinger (1872–1933) m. Jan. 20, 1896
Children 3, including Ralph Waldo Holsinger Jr.
Residence 1021 Wertland Street
First Ward
Profession Photographer
Religion Baptist
Holsinger and his camera
Holsinger's University Studio, ca. 1906
Signature of R. W. Holsinger

Rufus Washington Holsinger (February 22, 1865–October 8, 1931) was a prominent Charlottesville citizen in the early 20th century known for his work as a photographer [1] A former president of the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce, he also helped organized the National Bank of Charlottesville. In 1906, he was elected to the city council to represent the First Ward and held that office until 1912. At the first meeting after the 1906 election, the council elected Holsinger (aged 41) to serve as Vice-president. In 1910, he was elected President of the the Council.

The Holsinger Studio Collection, a large gallery of photographs originally taken by Holsinger and his associates at the University Studio, is housed in the University of Virginia’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

Early life and career

Rufus Holsinger came to Charlottesville from Pennsylvania by way of Manassas in the late 1880’s to establish a photographic business. His Holsinger “University" Studio at 719-721 West Main was the leading studio in town, with a reputation for first-quality work.[2] Mel's Cafe today occupies the site where University Studio once stood, with the interior of the restaurant being lined with contemporary photographs taken by Holsinger and his associates (such as a portrait picture of George R Ferguson Sr. and his children).

Business interests

Holsinger opened his ‘University Studio’ at 719-721 West Main Street. He specialized in Wet Plate Collodion Photography, an early photographic technique invented by Englishman Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. Holsinger preferred the wet-plate method because he believed they produced the sharpest large (14 x 17) image negatives. He mastered the tedious process (the objects would appear in the lens upside down and have to be laterally reversed) and prints would be made on the finest albumen paper, purchased from E. & H. T. Anthony & Company.[3]

In 1906, Holsinger was the sole agent for the famous Eastman Kodaks. His gallery carried a full line of photographic supplies, picture frames, mouldings, etc. In 1912 he was commissioned to create an historical record of the interior and grounds of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate. A fire in 1912 destroyed many of his early prints but he stayed in business.

1915, while working as an instructor at the University of Virginia, among the people who sat for portraits was Georgia O'Keefe.

Public life

City Council

Holsinger served for twelve years as a member of the city council representing the First Ward. He served as vice-president a later president of the body. On February 13, 1909, Holsinger was appointed by Mayor E. G. Haden to the following Standing Committees: Finance, Water and Ordinances.

Other services

He served as President of the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce and was one of the charter members of the local Kiwanis Club.


Rufus Washington Holsinger, the oldest of Thomas Snyder and Elizabeth Snyder Holsinger’s four sons, was born on February 22, 1865 in Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

Marriage and children

On January 20, 1896, Rufus married Sallie "Sadie" Leland Anderson (1872–1933). Their three children, Ethel May Holsinger (1897–1980); Mabel Marion Holsinger (1901–1905); Ralph Waldo Holsinger (1906–1996), were often the subjects of his outdoor photographic works.

Personal life and death

He died at his home on Wertland Street on October 8, 1931 after an extended illness. He was sixty-sixty years of age.

Published works

The Holsinger Studio Collection is housed at the University of Virginia's Special Collection Library. The collection consists of 9,000 dry-plate glass negatives and 500 celluloid negatives from Holsinger's studio. Roughly 60% of the collection are portraits of local Charlottesville and Central Virginia residents including almost 500 portraits of African-American citizens[2].


He served as president and treasurer of the Photographic Association of Virginia and the Carolinas, and as treasurer of the Photographer’s Association of America[2].


The Holsinger Studio Collection

After Rufus Holsinger’s death, his son Ralph took charge of the studio and ran it until his retirement nearly 40 years later. The nearly 10,000 surviving photographs are stored in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at UVA, which has made the collection among its first contributions to the Digital Public Library of America, an effort to link the nation’s libraries, archives and museums into one digital hub.

In 1930, his daughter and son continued operating the studio at its 908 West Main Street location until 1969. The gallery was subsequently operated by various family members until its closure in 1977. The Holsinger Studio Collection of nearly 9,000 dry-plate glass negatives and 500 film negatives are currently part of the Special Collections of the University of Virginia Library. This collection can be accessed online via UVA’s digitized VIRGO catalog.[4]

The famous photographer Ed Roseberry, who also donated thousands of negatives as well as old camera equipment to Special Collections during his lifetime, was once described by Coy Barefoot as the "Rufus Holsinger of the second half of the 20th century."[5]


Further reading

  • Heblich and Walters, Holsinger's Charlottesville, 1890–1925. Selected Photographs From The Collection of Rufus W. Holsinger (Batt Bates & Co., 1976)
  • Brennan, Charlottesville (Arcadia Publishing, 2011)

See also


  1. Web. The Holsinger Studio Collection, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, retrieved July 12, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Web. Holsigner Studio Collection, University of Virginia's Special Collections Library, 2018
  5. Web. Charlottesville scene photographer Roseberry dies at 97, The Daily Progress, 10/13/2022

External Links