Monthly Archives: May 2015

Do you smell something funny?

"D. Fleming Lucas and Trixie. From Will & Edna."  Studio photograph on postcard, 1920s.

“D. Fleming Lucas and Trixie. From Will & Edna.” Studio photograph on postcard. T. A. Morgan, photographer, Morgantown, West Virginia, 1920s.

When I purchased this postcard, I was especially taken by toddler D. Fleming Lucas’ onesie, which clearly covers a bulky layer of diapers and a woolen diaper cover.  (Latex or rubber pants for babies seem to have appeared on the scene in the 1920s but, from his profile, I would guess that young Master Lucas is not wearing them.)  I was also charmed by Trixie’s expression.  I think she looks as though she smells something funny and is fighting her canine impulses to investigate further. She’s not looking at the photographer, although the toddler is.  She is probably looking at her owner, Master Lucas’ mother or father, and notice how her ears are folded back. She’d like to get down from that chair, but she’s being good and holding very still.

It is remarkable how many studio photographs of babies with family dogs survive from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  I’ll share more in future posts and offer a consideration of the  posing conventions that had already developed by the 1860s.  For now, however, enjoy Trixie and her (probably) fragrant young friend.

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Two Old Dogs Taking the Air

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“Fannie.” Real photo postcard, between 1907 and 1914. U.S.A., photographer unknown.

Spring is here, and dogs everywhere are enjoying the sun on their fur and the air in their snouts.  Sometimes real photo postcards just speak for themselves, even if they contain little or no additional information.  These two images show well-cared-for, senior dogs enjoying the outdoors.  The old gentleman in this first image is unidentified, but the second one is labelled “Fannie” on the back side.    Fannie looks like a collie mix of some type.  The old gentleman is a bit more mysterious.  His ears have been clipped, which was usually done to bulldogs, but he has quote a prominent muzzle.  Yet I don’t see much German Shepherd in there, either.  (German shepherds were rare in the U.S. until after World War I.)   If you have any thoughts on the breeding of this fellow, I’d be happy to read them.

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A dog enjoying the sunshine. Real photo postcard, probably 1920s. Probably U.S.A., photographer unknown.


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Watching the parrot….

Real photo postcards taken by pet owners in the early 1900s sometimes provide wonderful glimpses of cats, dogs, and birds engaged in everyday behaviors without paying attention to the human being pointing that stupid black box in their direction. We get a sense of relationships and routines of pet care.  Here’s a nice example.

This postcard depicts blog scans 27Apr15 a pair of feline siblings watching the family parrot, whose cage has been set out on what seems to be the back step to get some fresh air and sunshine.  The postcard came into my collection with a second image, a portrait of the cats waiting at the door, perhaps to be let in or to be given their supper since the parrot was too well protected to allow anything but a little recreational birdwatching.

blog scans 27Apr15_0001Unfortunately, these postcards are not marked with names, dates or locations.  From the marks on the back of the cards, they date from around 1920. Still, they provide a bit more information on the daily lives of pets in households a century ago.

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Filed under bird cages, cats, material culture, parrots, pet photography, pets, real photo postcard

Pets…for Assurance of a Fuller Life

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Pets for Assurance of a Fuller Life. New York: The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, 1956. Fifth in the series Assurance of a Fuller Life.

In 1956, The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, purveyor of life insurance since 1859, published a series of booklets, the “Assurance of a Fuller Life” series.  Produced by the Medical Department of the Company as a public health initiative, the series focused on vacationing, health and safety in the kitchen, and “making the most of personal health resources at work, rest and play.”  Number Five in the series was this booklet, Pets for Assurance of a Fuller Life (hereafter PAFL).    

This booklet promoted pet keeping as a form of family leisure and another opportunity to cultivate close family relationships: “Owning a pet is like playing a good game.  It’s exciting, stimulating, absorbing, challenging, and above all — it’s fun!”    The text also assumed that its readers were pet-less and encouraged  a family meeting to determine what kind of pet would be “best-suited” to its circumstances:

If you feel a dog or a cat would burden your family too much — ADMIT IT!  You need not face a petless future.  You can get pleasure when your canary sings as you enter the room, when your tropical fish swarm to the side of the tank, when your white mice do wild acrobatics just to amuse you.  None of these pets scratch at the door and imperiously demand to be taken for a walk just when you’re deep in a mystery story or putting a souffle in the oven — and it’s raining outside.

As I discuss in Pets in America, advice about pet keeping from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries promoted the idea that children’s (especially boys’) moral development required the presence of  pets, who stood in for the human dependents every pater familias could expect to support: elderly servants or family members, invalids, and wives and children, of course.  Kindly stewardship to animals taught children the patience, restraint and sense of duty that would make them good family members and good citizens. These early books didn’t discuss having pets as an activity that parents and children could share; ideals of family life at the time viewed relationships between parents (particularly fathers) and children as being loving but hierarchical.

PAFL reflects a couple of important changes in both “domestic culture”  and the practice of pet keeping by the time it was written.  While it promoted kindness (each pet was “a playmate, not a plaything”), the text’s perception of the ability of children to care for pets was grounded in new understandings of child development.  Parents were advised to give each child “plenty of help” in caring for an animal.

IMG pet blog images_0007The booklet also promoted the use of small animal veterinarians.  It’s telling that an entire page was devoted to explaining what a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine actually was.  Prospective pet owners were admonished that “diagnosing disease in animals is not a job for amateurs.”  Veterinarians also provided advice on a relatively new concern, whether to spay or neuter.  In case there was any confusion on the topic, PAFL  advised, “neutering is final, and once it is done you have lost the chance of mating or breeding your pet.”

Pets for the Assurance of a Fuller Life is an artifact of the 1950s, in both its graph design and its contents.  It reflects the increasing popularity of pet keeping as part of suburban family life and an avenue for family fun, and it reflects an era  when more pet owners began to pay for professionalized services such as grooming and  medical care.

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