Where was Miss Weagly?

Custodian With a dry mop in a hallway

Decades After Her Travels, a Schoolteacher’s Global Journeys are Revealed

By Kate Poindexter and Photography by Louise A. Weagly

Louise A. Weagly was hard to pin down. The Frederick County math teacher had local roots, but they crawled around the globe. Literally.

With camera in hand, she chronicled the life and times of people and places, with an eye for the smallest of details among the largest of subjects. From 1950 through 1982, she traveled the world, returning home to share her photographs and stories in slideshows with local churches and civic clubs. Those photos—approximately 10,000 of them—are now in the collection of Frederick County Public Libraries to be shared with local residents and the world in a unique, interactive display. 

The staff of the Maryland Room at the C. Burr Artz Public Library in Downtown Frederick respectfully refer to her as “Miss Weagly,” just as her students did during her four decades in the classroom. In recent months, library staff has been busy cataloguing and converting her slides into various formats, constructing a display showcasing her collection.

The result is a new exhibit appropriately named “Where in the World is Miss Weagly?” located in the library’s lobby and with an even broader reach through social media. The exhibit challenges people to guess the locations of featured photographs and entices them to map out places they wish to experience and/or chronicle places they have already visited. 

“Miss Weagly was the multimedia of her time,” says Mary Mannix, manager of the Maryland Room, noting that the display is engaging and multidimensional, just like the woman it honors. Mannix says the timing of the display is perfect, coinciding with both Women’s History Month and the 275th anniversary of Frederick County. “Everyone who has ever lived in Frederick County is part of its history. We are each a little drop of information,” Mannix says.

It appears that Miss Weagly is about 10,000 drops, reflected in the 10,000 35mm color slides she created in the collection.

Behind the Lens

Louise Weagly was born in 1909 in Baltimore. Her family spent some time in Indiana and eventually moved to Middletown, where she grew up with her parents and two sisters on Broad Avenue. She graduated from Middletown High School, earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Hood College and a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York City. 

She taught for five years in Ellicott City, and then moved to Frederick High School where she taught for the next 35 years. She also served as supervisor of mathematics for Frederick County Public Schools for 10 years. Her sister established the Louise A. Weagly ’30 Scholarship fund at Hood College for students preparing to teach math. 

Her family belonged to the Christ Reformed Church in Middletown and endowed the church maintained “Weagly House,” a home where needy families could work toward self-sufficiency. She and her family are buried in the church’s cemetery. 

Weagly shared her travel stories and photos with local churches and community centers throughout the county. Her fondness for photography may have been sparked by her love of nature and gardening. She developed a keen eye for detail and took photos of birds, trees, flowers and shrubs during her travels. She also served as the state treasurer of the Maryland Ornithological Society. 

Following her death in 1991, her massive collection of photo slides first went to her best friend and stored in a garage for several years until it was donated to the library by the friend’s daughter. The 15 boxes of 500-to-800 slides each, along with Weagly’s handwritten notes, have historic as well as aesthetic value, Mannix says.

The slide collection shows her explorations of more than 80 countries and territories on every continent except Antarctica. Among the mysteries are how she planned her worldwide adventures and how she paid for them on a teacher’s salary. 

Frances Payne, senior circulation clerk at the C. Burr Artz Public Library and one of the exhibit curators, notes the photos’ striking details. “The thing I really love about her is she didn’t shy away from taking pictures of the things that most tourists would not have taken,” Payne says. “She had a way of documenting things in their natural presence, not to interrupt, but to be an observer.”

Traveling Show

Weagly also gave glimpses of the world before parts of it became off-limits to foreign travelers. Some of her trips predated historic geopolitical changes. She visited and photographed Havana, Cuba, in 1953, just as revolutionaries began their campaign that would ultimately end with the overthrow of the Batista government six years later. She walked through markets in Saigon in Vietnam and visited Cambodia in 1961, before the war in Southeast Asia restricted civilian access in those countries.  

In other locations, she picked up on the rhythms and textures that make up everyday life. She captured a woman diving for clams in Japan, coffee makers at a market in Lebanon and a woman bathing in India.

She photographed many other picturesque places including Bali, China, Egypt, Fiji, Greece, Monaco, Portugal, Tahiti, Tanzania and Uganda. She also took photos in at least 26 U.S. states. She captured images of indigenous birds and plants in Hawaii.  

One of Payne’s favorites is a photo Weagly took in Senegal in 1961. It features a crowded street with a guitarist who catches the eye of the camera. “I love this photo because of the emotion. There’s a lot going on in this photo, and the exchange between the guitarist and Miss Weagly is kind. I think this photo displays the hustle of the moment, while also focusing on a brief connection. It is quite beautiful,” Payne says. 

Miss Weagly’s collection is so extensive, it might be an easier task to list the places she did not visit. And, no doubt with the help of her travel companions, she managed to turn the camera on herself enjoying, among other places, the views at the top of Bürgenstock, a mountain resort overlooking the Lucerne River in Switzerland. Her full travelogue is available at the library.

Payne says one takeaway from the exhibit is that anyone can embrace the spirit of adventure embodied by Weagly’s images. “She was a trailblazer and you can be, too.” 

Kelley Keimig, social media and marketing specialist at the library agrees. “It’s been so fascinating to work on this exhibit and go through Miss Weagly’s body of work housed here in the Maryland Room,” she says. “She seems like she was such a cool lady. I would have loved to have been able to meet her and hear her stories about the places she’s been and the adventures she went on. I think celebrating a Fredericktonian such as Miss Weagly is the perfect way to celebrate Women’s History Month, and my hope is that our exhibit will pique the interest of library customers and also bring awareness to the many treasures held in our very own archives, the Maryland Room.”

Louise Weagly logged many miles and developed a ton of film. Her love of adventure and keen photographic skills merged as she observed and photographed people in all walks of life, in rural and urban areas. The collection shows photos from American Samoa and Argentina to Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Now, the exhibit enables you to be Miss Weagly’s travel companion at the library or online. Visit the library’s social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest) to see if you can place her in the “Where in the World is Miss Weagly?” challenge. Find more details about the exhibit at www.fcpl.org.

Traveling around the world can be costly. Take a trip with Miss Weagly for free.

Frederick Magazine