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Fidelia Bridges was born in Salem, Massachusettes, the third of four children. When she was 15, both her parents died within a few months of each other. To help support her brother and sisters she worked as a governess. At one time she worked in Mark Twain's home. She was an eager and accomplished sketch artist during her youth; and in 1860, with help from one of the families for whom she was governess, she began formal art studies at Pennsylvania. There she met William Trost Richards, a painter influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Subject matter for Pre-Raphaelites (the name comes from the movement's admiration for the brushwork of the 15th century artists who preceded Raphael) was drawn from nature and rendered in sharp, natural detail. She became known as a Pre-Raphaelite; most of her works were small, highly detailed, and vividly lifelike. Fidelia quickly gained acceptance, exhibited widely, and was elected an associate of the National Academy.