People & Events
George Eastman was a confirmed bachelor, and there is no evidence to suggest that any secret trysts remain to be discovered. But perhaps this is beside the point, because short of consummation, Eastman was eventually as intimate with Josephine Dickman as any lover could be.
The manner in which they met says a great deal about Eastman's relationship to women. In 1889, he made a trip to Europe with his mother -- her first and only transatlantic trip, though her son often invited her to join him. In London, the Eastmans attended a dinner organized by William Walker, then Eastman's London manager, which included the American expatriates George and Josephine Dickman. Perhaps the combination of their interests -- George was an international businessman and Josephine, a trained singer -- spoke to the musically inclined businessman in Eastman. More likely, Eastman felt a certain liberation, as the fact the Mrs. Dickman and his mother got along famously.
In any event, Eastman quickly attached himself to the Dickmans, whose lifestyle opened up a new world for him -- a world of private clubs, theater, art, and antiques. In appreciation, Eastman appointed George Dickman to replace Walker as his London manager in January 1893. And so the uneven menage continued through the meeting rooms and galleries of Europe until tragedy, which had visited Eastman so often, again came calling.
In 1898 Eastman was in England looking for investors to form Kodak, Limited, an international company that, once formed, would virtually guarantee a world monopoly. This goal was within reach on November 9, when Dickman visited Eastman at the London office with some business to review. Then, suddenly, Dickman began to complain of severe abdominal pain.
As the pain continued, Dickman was laid out on a table in the board room; Eastman called an ambulance. Dickman was taken to his Hampstead home, followed soon thereafter by a surgeon. Eastman, who had ridden in the ambulance, stood by helplessly as the operation was performed. He was relieved to see Dickman's health rebound. But as so often happens, Dickman's condition took a turn for the worse a few days later, and on November 15 -- the very same day that the formation of Kodak, Limited, provided George Eastman a sum of $900,000 -- he died.
With the passing of George Dickman, Eastman's relationship with Josephine took on a more intense cast. Her husband's wealth (part of which stemmed from working with Eastman's company) allowed her the luxury of an apartment in New York, a summer home in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and winter quarters at hotels in Boston and Toronto, not to mention frequent vacations in Brussels. As she moved about, Eastman tracked her whereabouts relentlessly and even defied his usual injunction against ever using the telephone to locate her. His trips to New York often coincided with her presence at her apartment there, and often they would return to Rochester together. As often as not, when he went on camping trips, Josephine would take care of his mother. In 1904 he felt entitled enough to ask her to cut short a stay in Minneapolis and come to Eastman House to interview prospective housekeepers. Whatever their relationship boiled down to, it was enduring and deep.
Certainly they shared common interests. Both were music lovers -- she being a trained singer and he a dedicated listener -- who complemented each other well. Both were dedicated philanthropists as well, and gradually they began to give to the same charities. In this way, Eastman contravened another rule of his. He had always resolved not to donate money to schools for women. Yet in 1913 he sent a check for $5,000 to the Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture, Horticulture and Gardening for Women at Groton, near Petersham, Massachusetts -- one of Josephine's benefactors.
Of course, the primary woman in Eastman's life had always been his mother, who had raised him after his father's death until he could afford to support her in turn. When Maria Eastman died in 1907, then, it was only natural that he and Josephine should become even closer.
It was at this time that Eastman started taking Josephine along on his vacations. In October, 1907, they went on a trip together to Oak Lodge, Eastman's home-away-from-home in Halifax County, North Carolina. She came to his Rochester home for Christmas of that year, and in the spring of 1908, they made another trip, this one to Wyoming. There, they spent their days trout fishing, camping and horseback riding. One night, while they were sitting around the campfire, Josephine decided to sing, and when the coyotes joined her, she witnessed a very rare sight indeed: George Eastman doubled up in laughter.
The relationship between George Eastman and Josephine Dickman practically begs for psychoanalysis, and perhaps the closest expression of its meaning can be found in that he loved to photograph her. He caught her in almost every setting imaginable: at the billiard table, at the archery range, on picnics, in canoes, in the woods, on fishing expeditions. To what end? As his biographer, Elizabeth Brayer, has noted, "Considering his shyness, perhaps all this photographing was a way of making love without making love."
written by David Lindsay