A Raise in the South: Vintage Postcards

A road winding through the hilly farms of 1910 Greene County, Pennsylvania was likely to be pitted and ice pocked in late February.  Nevertheless, birthdays, particularly of beloved grandpas, required festive acknowledgements.  The Ruse family decided to let the mail do the travelling for Christopher’s seventy-third birthday, and, via USPS, invited young and old to shower the elderly carpenter with celebratory wishes.  Seven-year-old Donald Minor, my grandfather, received an invitation from Chris Ruse’s granddaughter, Helen E.

Dear Donald, We are having a surprise Postcard shower for Grandpa Ruse on March 13.  We want all of you to send a card and to tell everyone you see that knows him.

The adult who formed each cursive letter for Helen conveyed more than a mere request. On the front of the postcard greeting was a reproduction of an early twentieth century print, A Raise in the South.  In the scene, nine southern black men are gathered in a smoky, windowless room around a large table, mid-way through a hand of poker.  I suppose the cartoonish characters were meant to be child-appropriate and the title a clever play on the word “raise,” but a larger lesson was truly being dealt.

The Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War and Reconstruction had become firmly lodged in the national psyche by 1910, guiding the country’s sectional reunion.  According to this historiography, the war was fought by valiant white men, Yankee and Rebel, for the cause of liberty.  Emancipation of slaves had not been a wise move; African-Americans needed –and desired–the paternal governance of the superior white race.  Tossed from memory were tales of black heroism and self-efficacy. What lingered were caricatures of idleness and incompetence, portraits of black men seeing raises within the context of a game, not within  the framework of gainful employment.

The birthday invitation from one child to another was an early lesson in the state of race relations within the country Don and Helen would inherit.  Insidiously, cartoon postcards planted doubt and fear, which in turn sprouted justifications for the South’s use of murder, segregation, and disenfranchisement of black Americans in the effort to re-establish a country of white men, governed by white men.

Far from comic,  A Raise in the South, is a chilling reminder of mass media’s influence on public memory.

Postcard. "A Raise in the South," From Helen E. Ruse to Donald C. Minor, 27 February 1910. Donald Minor Postcard Collection, D. Kay Strickland Family History Library.

Postcard. “A Raise in the South,” From Helen E. Ruse to Donald C. Minor, 27 February 1910. Donald Minor Postcard Collection, D. Kay Strickland Family History Library.

The One I Know: Florence McClure Titus

The Minor Family Album closes out with portraits of nine children, all taken between 1887-1894.  I can identify, with confidence, only one face.

Framed by short bangs and soft, baby curls, the chubby toddler’s brown eyes flatly state that she will hold this position but a moment longer. This is Flossie, christened Florence McClure in 1889 by her parents, Owen and Sarah Minor McClure.

The puffed sleeve of the eighteen nineties makes an appearance in even this little one’s dress.  Her bodice is embellished by a large lacy collar, and ribbon and bows adorn the bodice, sleeves, cuffs, and floor-length skirt.  What a fabulous portrait!

Florence McClure Titus, Thomas W. Rogers, photographer, Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, about 1892. The Minor Family Album, page 22: Author's Collection.

Florence McClure Titus, 1892-1893, Thomas W. Rogers, photographer, Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, . The Minor Family Album, page 22: Author’s Collection.

Unknown Woman In Day Cap: The Minor Family Album

This middle-aged woman sat for her portrait, held motionless by a photographer’s head rest for the minutes-long exposure. The discomfort of such stillness couldn’t keep an impish grin from her face.  Woman in a Day Cap’s identity and relationship to my family has been lost. Her photograph, however, can serve now as a mid-nineteenth century fashion plate, evidence of what a mature woman wore out and about on a cold day.

LOOK WITH ME

A white cap covers the woman’s gray-streaked hair, framing her face with its starched ruffles.  A white ribbon is tied under her chin, ensuring the cap’s place come wind or rain.  At her throat, the woman wears a white cotton collar, one to three inches wide, with scalloped tatted edges decoratively set off by the dark material underneath.  The woolen wrap is worn draped across the front, gathered and fastened on the upper left arm–not at the throat like other coats and cloaks of the 1840s and 1850s.  Her hands are tucked inside a white fur muff, likely made of ermine.

Even if I don’t know how this woman is related to my Minor family, I take great delight in the inclusion of her photograph.  As always, digging in the Minor Family Album reveals treasures.

Smiling Woman Wearing Day Cap. Cabinet card (1885-1895) of original daguerreotype (1845-1855). Minor Family Album, p. 17; author's collection. 2014.

Smiling Woman Wearing Day Cap. Cabinet card (1885-1895) of original daguerreotype (1845-1855). Minor Family Album, p. 17; author’s collection. 2014.

Windows To My Past

Vintage photographs lead to vintage family.  Folks that shared an historical context and proximity, whose connections of love and sorrow shaped decisions that are even now rippling through my time.

I love looking at these eyes, windows to my past, staring back into my present.

Family Portrait taken by T W Rogers, Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, circa 1874.  Standing: Sarah, John P., Olfred Minor.  Seated: Mary Jane Gwynn and Francis Marion Minor.  Standing front: Robert Minor (b. 1869) Photo recovered from Minor Home Farm circa 1965

Family Portrait taken by T W Rogers, Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, circa 1874. Standing: Sarah, John P., Olfred Minor. Seated: Mary Jane Gwynn and Francis Marion Minor. Standing front: Robert Minor (b. 1869) Photo recovered from Minor Home Farm circa 1965

Thomas W Rogers of Carmichaels, Pennsylvania took this portrait of my great-grandfather’s birth family in the mid-1870s, when Robert Minor was about six years old.  The faces of his parents bear distinctive features, which I make use of as I sleuth through other photographs.

Like now, when we turn to pages eight and nine of the Minor Family Album.

page 8 blog

Marion Minor (1828-1913) His Roman nose was a strong facial feature. His right eyelid drooped noticeably.

 

page 9 blog

Mary Jane Gwynne Minor (1829-1908) Her most striking feature were her startingly light, and probably blue, eyes.

 

The photographs are mounted on heavy cardstock, with a metallic coating–silver or gold–on the beveled, scalloped edges, a product commonly used from 1880-the early 1890s. The two appear to be in their early sixties, suggesting a portrait sitting after 1888.  The puffy fullness at the shoulder of Mary Jane’s dress narrows the timeframe to between 1889-1892.

I imagine Mary Jane and Marion starting their day with the usual farm chores, milking cows, gathering egges, lighting the stove and fixing breakfast.  Instructions would be given to Robert and the farmhands for the rest of the day’s chores, before the couple changed into their best clothes.  A horse was hitched up to the buggy and they drove out onto the “red dog” surface, heading up the hill of Ceylon Road, past the homes of siblings and children, nieces and nephews, on their seven mile trip to Carmichaels.

What was the occasion for the photographs?  A sixtieth birthday acknowledged?  Their fortieth wedding anniversary celebrated?

Whatever prompted the impulse, I am grateful that the studio appointment was kept, and that I have these eyes gazing from my past.

The Story Lies In His Hand

Page Five of The MINOR FAMILY ALBUM

How good it is to see familiar faces!!

The fifth page frames a young couple’s portrait, carefully staged to tell the story of a momentous autumn day. Robert Minor had just taken May Stevenson’s hand in marriage.

The twenty-three year old groom was dressed in well-tailored pin-striped pants worn with a frock coat and matching waist coat–a fashion which would indicate that the Thursday wedding was held during the day.  His bride, seventeen year old May Stevenson, wore an exquisite gown with lace at the throat, on the bodice, and at the cuffs.  The hat, no doubt designed and made by her milliner mother, Mary Jones Stevenson, was trimmed in the this same lace and finished with feathers.  September 8, 1892 was a grand day for these families.

The Presbyterian minister, T. G. Bristow, conducted the service in Carmichaels, Greene County, Pennsylvania.  After Robert and May exchanged their vows, and the LARGE families of both bride and groom mingled in congratulations, the newlyweds stopped by the Public Square studio of T. W. Rogers and had their picture taken.  Robert stared a bit like a deer caught in a lantern’s light, perhaps rocked by the realization that the circuit of ice cream socials and steamboat shows had come to an end. A soft smile tugged at May’s face, however.  The young lady had survived the arduous years following her father’s death and secured her future with this prosperous young man.  Together the youngsters would join in the family business–raising cattle and children to carry on the Minor legacy on Ceylon Road, Garard’s Fort, Pennsylvania.

May Laura Stevenson and Robert Minor said "I do" on September 8, 1892, in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania.  The service was officiated by Rev. T. J. Briston, a Presbyterian minister.

May Laura Stevenson and Robert Minor said “I do” on September 8, 1892, in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania. The service was officiated by Rev. T. J. Briston, a Presbyterian minister.