Born in the Vermont hill town of Calais, Lucy Ainsworth (1819-1895) lived during a period of great social, economic, and political change. Many Americans responded to those changes by turning to movement ranging from evangelical Protestantism and abolitionism to phrenology and spiritualism. Lucy found a ready clientele for her ability to diagnose physical ailments, find missing wallets, or help sheriffs solve mysteries by entering a trancelike sleep known as mesmerism. According to family tradition "Sleeping Lucy" developed her clairvoyant skills gradually and did not begin to heal people until after her marriage to Charles Cooke in 1847. The couple settled in Reading, where they worked as a team until his death in 1855 and then Lucy moved to Montpelier. Eventually Lucy remarried and moved to Boston, where she continued to practice as Dr. Lucy Cooke, treating patients and running a successful mail-order herbal business.
This portrait was probably done shortly after Lucy's first marriage since its match is a portrait of her husband, Charles Cooke. Though unknown, the artist skillfully captured Cooke's intensity in her eyes.