So the political world is buzzing right now about a photo of Obama’s chief speechwriter, the 27-year-old Jon Favreau.

In the photo, Favreau and another man are seen with a life-size cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton. Favreau is leaning in toward Clinton and smiling for the camera, like you would if you were getting your photo taken with a celebrity, but with one big difference — he’s groping the cutout’s “breast” with one hand. The other guy is kissing Clinton on the cheek and tipping a beer bottle up to her mouth.

It appears that the photo, which surfaced on Facebook not long ago, probably isn’t going to derail Favreau’s career. He has reportedly called Clinton to apologize, and Clinton’s people have put out a light-hearted statement on the incident. But the sexism and disrespect for Clinton evidenced in the photo have a lot of people fuming.

I mention all this here at studentactivism.net not because of any campus angle to this story, but because the photo reminds me powerfully of another photo — one taken more than a hundred years ago.

In early 1902 a member of the “Jolly Eight,” a drinking club at Yale University, sent temperance crusader Carry Nation a tongue-in-cheek letter describing that group as “a party of Yale men who have banded together to promote the cause of total abstinence.” The letter-writer praised Nation’s efforts to stamp out the use of alcohol and tobacco, and asked her for her advice and support.

Stories vary about how exactly that letter led to Carry Nation visiting the Yale campus a few months later, but she did. She addressed a small gathering of students, who tried to keep straight faces while she lectured them. She gave a speech, at which she was sarcastically serenaded by the campus glee club. (Their rendition of the temperance anthem “Down With King Alcohol” was accompanied by chugging gestures, for instance.) And then she left.

After the speech, a group of students appeared at Nation’s hotel room to talk with her further, and at one point they asked if she would pose for a photo with them. The photographic process being used required not only a flash as the photo was taken, but also darkness in the room before and after, so the lights in the room were turned out.

Two photos were taken that day.

In the first, Nation is seated on her bed, with the students gathered around her. She is holding a glass of water, and in the darkness the students have produced props of their own — a beer stein, a tumbler, a cigarette, a pipe — to make the setting look like exactly the sort of party Nation so strongly disapproved of. Later, the photo was altered to make it look like Nation herself was not just drinking, but also holding a cigarette and entertaining the men around her by blowing smoke rings.

0085212The second photo, which can be seen at right, is less witty, and more vicious. In it, Nation is standing, again surrounded by a group of men. One is drinking from a flask, another smoking a cigarette. Three are seated at her feet, pretending to be drunk. And one is standing behind her holding a coiled rope, as if preparing to slip it around her neck.

There are differences between the Nation photos and the Clinton one, of course, starting with the obvious fact that Clinton wasn’t actually physically in the room with Favreau and his friend. But there’s a similar sense of humor at work in each, and the feminist response to the Clinton/Favreau incident brings into focus the parallel ways in which gender inflects the old and new photographs.

In the “smoke rings” photo, the students created an image of Carry Nation at a rowdy party, and the image took its humor from that incongruity. In the rope photo, though, as in the Clinton cutout photo, there’s little of that sense of story. These images are images of aggression, of a woman being dominated. The smoke rings photo is funny because it depicts Carry Nation seemingly doing something that would be out of character for her, but in character for any number of other people. The other two photos are disturbing because they depict Nation, and Clinton, in situations that no woman would choose to place herself in.

The more I think about this juxtaposition, the more interested I am in the original photographs of Carry Nation, and how they have been received and interpreted. The 1902 prank is a fairly well-known one, and  this incident has left me eager to go back into the archives and look at the various ways in which the story of Nation’s visit to Yale was told at the time, as well as at how it has been told by historians since.