American Holiday Postcards, 1905–1915

Imagery and Context


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About the Book

In the early 20th century, postcards were one of the most important and popular expressions of holiday sentiment in American culture. Millions of such postcards circulated among networks of community and kin as part of a larger American postcard craze. However, their uses and meanings were far from universal. This book argues that holiday postcards circulated primarily among rural and small town, Northern, white women with Anglo-Saxon and Germanic heritages. Through analysis of a broad range of sources, Daniel Gifford recreates the history of postcards to account for these specific audiences, and reconsiders the postcard phenomenon as an image-based conversation among exclusive groups of Americans. A variety of narratives are thus revealed: the debates generated by the Country Life Movement; the empowering manifestations of the New Woman; the civic privileges of whiteness; and the role of emerging technologies. From Santa Claus to Easter bunnies, flag-waving turkeys to gun-toting cupids, holiday postcards at first seem to be amusing expressions of a halcyon past. Yet with knowledge of audience and historical conflicts, this book demonstrates how the postcard images reveal deep divides at the height of the Progressive Era.

About the Author(s)

Daniel Gifford, Ph.D.’s career spans academia and public history, including George Mason University, George Washington University, and the Smithsonian Institution. A scholar of American popular culture and museums studies, he currently teaches at several universities near his home in Louisville, Kentucky.

Bibliographic Details

Daniel Gifford
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 244
Bibliographic Info: 84 photos (17 are in color), 15 charts, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2013
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7817-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1320-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Introduction 1
One • We Gather Together: Finding Audiences Within the American Postcard Fad 13
Two • Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot: Revising the History of the Postcard Phenomenon 36
Three • Tidings of Comfort and Joy: The Functions and Uses of Postcards 74
Four • Field and Fountain, Moor and Mountain: The Rural Landscape in Holiday Postcards 86
Between pages 114 and 115 are 8 color plates containing 17 photographs
Five • Love’s Redeeming Work Is Done: Images of Women and Courtship in Holiday Postcards 115
Six • O Beautiful for Pilgrim Feet: Patriotism and Race in Holiday Postcards 144
Seven • And What Was on Those Ships All Three? Images of New Technology in Holiday Postcards 171
Epilogue 188
Appendix 191
Chapter Notes 203
Bibliography 216
Index 223

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “A wonderful addition to the popular culture scholarship”—Journal of American Culture
  • “A serious cultural study of 2,000 postcards, analyzing them in as many statistical ways as possible”—eNews The Ephemera Society of America.