A portrait of an African American woman in Victorian fashion. My guess is that this photograph was taken sometime in the 1860s when necklines rose and the bustle was more noticeable. Fashion historians have also observed that skirt fronts flattened out (also drawing more attention to the bustle) from the 1850s to the 1860s.
There’s no information about the woman but from the photograph, we can speculate that she’s quite privileged relative to other African American women in this period (the Civil War era). Her dress and fan (a symbol of leisure) as well as the fact of the portrait itself are all indications that she was well-off - again, in relation to most other African American women.
Addendum: OF ANOTHER FASHION readers demonstrate, once again, the brilliance of social media and collaborative knowledge production. Thank you all for pointing me to the Harper Collection at Florida Memory Project where this photograph (and so many more) are archived. In addition to learning about the photographer, Alvan S. Harper, I learned that the photograph was taken after the 1880s and the dresses and accessories were likely borrowed from Harper’s studio.