To You and Your Kin: Holiday Images from America’s Postcard Phenomenon, 1907-1910




Gifford, Daniel

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation draws from the fields of history, art history, and visual culture to generate a deeply contextualized analysis of early twentieth century holiday postcards. It first argues that holiday postcards are significant cultural artifacts, overlooked by scholars in favor of more familiar souvenir “view cards” of people and places. By contrast, greeting cards—and holiday cards in particular—are a period-specific source with the potential to represent a far more egalitarian and wide-reaching audience. This project next offers an approach to quantitative history that reconstructs historical postcard audiences by combining information gleaned from with census records. After quantitative analysis of 2,000 holiday postcards, it argues that these postcards circulated primarily among rural and small town, Northern, white women with Anglo-Saxon and Germanic heritages. Audiences and actual users are thus moved to the center of this project, and extensive primary sources reconstruct the postcard phenomenon from their perspective. This “bottom-up” approach reveals the ways in which postcards were xiii appropriated by these particular groups, especially women. It is their interactions with postcards that helped turn the medium into a major popular phenomenon in the early 1900s. Such postcard use is described as image-based conversations between these specific audiences and networks of community and kin. The second half of the dissertation then examines over 100 holiday images in the context of significant contestations and tensions within these groups’ lives: the Country Life Movement; the rise of the “New Woman”; and the influx of “new immigrants.” It looks at how these historical contestations added contextual meanings to holiday images, and how those images mediated and addressed a multitude of fears, desires, and understandings among postcard audiences. The images studied cover a wide range of popular holiday themes— Santa Claus and Easter bunnies; flag-waving turkeys and gun-toting cupids; Halloween witches and New Years drunks. The dissertation describes the interplay between three important categories of information: the specificity of audience demographics; a thorough understanding of historical context; and consistent visual themes and tropes. Knowledge of audience and context reveals the ways in which holiday postcards and their attendant images engaged with historically-specific conflicts, tensions, anxieties, and contestations in people’s lives.



Postcards, American Studies, Holidays, Progressive Era, Visual Culture, Art History