Leap Year Traditions in Early 20th Century Postcards

By Jessica Wilson and Anthony Pankuch

In the early 1900s, the Leap Year was a time in which women took the lead in courtship; by 1908 this trend was commercialized. The binder, “Feminists Leap Year Vol. 2,” from the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection, contains postcards from this era often depicting women as aggressive, desperate, and frenzied in their pursuit of male companions and husbands. Occasionally humorous or romantic, Leap Year postcards provide a revealing glimpse into the usurping of traditional gender roles and the way in which popular culture attempted to reassert male dominance through satire.

We have noticed that the image of aggressive women pursuing a reluctant male saturates the satirical drawings on many of the Leap Year postcards.

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This satirical depiction of a man going to extreme measures to protect himself against an aggressive, if not desperate, woman reflects both an effort to shift control of courtship back into the hands of the man and perhaps a literal protection of his worth. This image creates the impression that pursuant women face barriers to marrying an unwilling man. Interestingly, the sender of this postcard placed her own commentary on the front of the card: “Poor “Jack” had to lay his armour down.” This, presumably, is referring to a man finally caught by his female suitor!

We have found the desperate female suitor is similarly depicted in satirical drawings, such as the image below.

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The woman here is in an obviously submissive position, desperately begging for the man’s companionship. Again, although this image depicts the woman as the pursuer, the man is in the dominant position physically and in control of the decision to accept a relationship. The female sender of this postcard placed names above the man, “Milo,” and the woman, “Saramae,” as a reference to perhaps a humorous relationship between two people both the sender and addressee know.

As we’ll show in our next blog post, many similarities emerge when we compared the Leap Year postcards to the satirical postcards of the suffrage movement. One of our favorite postcards provides commentary on traditional gender roles and the challenge that suffragettes placed on “traditional” norms.

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The man depicted here is obviously struggling to complete the laundry, suggesting that men are ill-suited for domestic work and inconvenienced by women’s participation in the suffrage movement. The quote, “Is your wife a Suffragette?,” suggests that women’s participation in the movement led to negligence of domestic duties. Such, apparently, was the struggle of the suffragette’s husband!

Both the Leap Year and anti-suffrage postcards use satire to question the shift in gender roles during this period. Humor masks the reassertion of masculinity, while also demeaning the female character. While Leap Year postcards serve to present a small sense of power to women in courtship, the anti-suffrage postcards reinforce the importance of women in daily household functions.

The fascinating depictions of women and men as seen through imagery and letters from the early 1900s continue to broaden the knowledge of gender roles and remind us, in 2018, that satire and humor abound throughout history as brilliant commentary on social and cultural changes.

The David P. Campbell Postcard Collection, searchable at postcard.uakron.edu, is a key collection of the CCHP’s Institute for Human Science and Culture. This blog series chronicles student efforts to make a select group of these postcards more accessible through an Unclass offered through the EXL Center and the English Department at the University of Akron.

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Deciphering Coded Messages

By Stacy Young with Emma Grosjean

As we have started to working on digitizing our binder of postcards, we’ve found ourselves faced with many questions about the people involved with them. Our postcards are from England, and they date from the early 1900s. These messages are correspondences from a woman that signs her name as Mime Story Bates and a man that signs his name as J. Ralph Duckworth, and we are still working on figuring out who these individuals are.

Our main interest right now is the coded messages that some of the cards contain on their backs. As you can see below, the coded messages are often written using letters:

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But other codes that include numbers appear in the collection as well:

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We are really hoping to be able to crack the codes on the back. However, we are not familiar with coded messages and were wondering if anyone would be able to help us with this?

The David P. Campbell Postcard Collection, searchable at postcard.uakron.edu, is a key collection of the CCHP’s Institute for Human Science and Culture. This blog series chronicles student efforts to make a select group of these postcards more accessible through an Unclass offered through the EXL Center and the English Department at the University of Akron.

Scanning for Help

By Zoe Orcutt with Amanda Leach and Richard Marko

When we pulled the binder labeled “Hold-To-Light Copper Window Cards” from the shelf, little did I know that my group would be selecting a challenge. The binder contains postcards that reveal a secret or dual image when held up to a light source. While this is extremely interesting, it is also a challenge for scanning and digitization. We have tried many methods of capturing an image that digitally conveys the postcard’s duality. We first started by simply holding the cards up to our phone lights, while taking pictures of the revealed image on another phone. While this definitely worked for some of the cards, it did not work for all, and it produced somewhat slanted, blurry images.

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When this didn’t work, we moved into a darker room, with photography lights, but still we used the same iPhone camera. The photography lights intensified the images shown through the postcards. While this was an improvement from our previous method, the image quality was still bad. Some of these photographs were also crooked and the light distribution through the cards was uneven on account of the angle it was held to the light. In all these attempts, we couldn’t avoid having our fingers show as they held up the postcards. This time, with the light behind them, they appeared almost translucent.

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While we knew we were on the right track with the photography lights, we still tried our luck at using a photo-scanner with both top and bottom lights. I think we were really hoping that it would work and all of our challenges through trial and error would be alleviated with technology. The scanners we used were too sensitive to pick up the dual images of our postcards because they are specifically designed to capture images of film. Photo scanners only sense film when capturing both a frontlit and backlit image. We thought we might have been able to fool the machine, but again this did not work. We were only furthered in our quest to find the best process. What we have settled on, for now, has been the use of photography lights, a rig, and a digital camera to get a clean, consistent image of the postcard with light behind it. It is not a very time efficient method of digitization, but it has been getting the job done.

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We know that some of our readers may have encountered similar problems when scanning images with duality. While our process is successful, we know it isn’t perfect. If anyone has had any experience scanning postcards of this nature (or other similar media) and can offer us some insight on to how to get a better image or improve our method, we would be happy to hear any and all advice.

The David P. Campbell Postcard Collection, searchable at postcard.uakron.edu, is a key collection of the CCHP’s Institute for Human Science and Culture. This blog series chronicles student efforts to make a select group of these postcards more accessible through an Unclass offered through the EXL Center and the English Department at the University of Akron.

“A milling hugs and kisses” from “soldier man Glen”

By Rosemary Herbert, with Randall Slonaker

It seems fitting as Valentine’s Day is upon us to peruse our postcard binder labeled “LOVERS PORTRAIT VOL. 1” in search of an affectionate message from one sweetheart to another. We were rewarded by finding one from what appears to be a World War I soldier declaring his love and longing, in heartfelt words written to his “Dear.” The soldier even adds a thought above the picture on the front of the card – something that we’re starting to see with some regularity in our collection – which shows lovers embracing and gazing lovingly into one another’s eyes. ‘how I love to be this close to you my Dear,” he pencils there, adding the initial “E” above the woman shown dressed in a rose-colored dress and a necklace of pearls, and a “G” above the man sporting a World War I uniform.Lovers1_wtmrk

Along with the penciled message on the front are four printed lines of poetry about loving from “far away!” Then, the back of the card is completely covered with the soldier’s penciled message, expressing sweet longing laced with endearments.
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Here is the soldier’s message transcribed in full:

I am awful sory Dear that your Mama is not feeling good and I sure do hope she is all right by now tell her and dad I sed hello. I sure would love Two be with yous all two Day
I would give any thing if I was there two Day holding you in my arms like this picture hun. Well my Dear I hope It ont be long till I can and by the looks of things I don’t think it will be long till I will be back to you Dear well my Dear you will haft to excuse me for not writing any more as I have now more cards or any writing paper, So my Dear I will haft to say By By for this time but will drop you a card just as soon as I get to my Co so By By my Dear for this time with a milling hugs and kisses. I am as ever your soldier X
XXX man Glen XXXX

Spelling errors abound and punctuation is all but missing, but this only adds to the charm of the message, by delivering a sense that the soldier’s thoughts spill uncontrolled in this missive. While his use of “two Day” instead of “today” may be a spelling error, the sweetness of this overall message begs the reader to consider if the “two” was chosen consciously, to underline the eagerness of one to be “two”. Of course such speculation goes beyond the scope of our project to simply record postcard content, but as Valentine’s Day arrives, it is tempting to muse on such a notion. Beyond all this, it decidedly seems a privilege to be privy to one soldier’s thoughts about his beloved.

The David P. Campbell Postcard Collection, searchable at postcard.uakron.edu, is a key collection of the CCHP’s Institute for Human Science and Culture. This blog series chronicles student efforts to make a select group of these postcards more accessible through an Unclass offered through the EXL Center and the English Department at the University of Akron.