Photo by Carol Lollis
Donna Albino on the Mount Holyoke College campus.
Albino wrote a book which is part of
the post card history series on Mount Holyoke College.
Albino, class of '83, has discovered a passion for researching the brief messages found on old postcards from her alma mater.
"They illuminate what college life was like back then," she explains.
For example, in the first card in Albino's recently published postcard history series, a new student offers insights into her first days at school in 1905.
"The girls are very kind to us freshmen, and a great many have called," wrote Elsie May Burnham, who went on to graduate in 1909. "I have marked my room with a cross."
Albino's book, published in April as part of Arcadia Publishing's postcard history series, contains 215 of the collector's favorite finds.
The inspiration for the project dates to 1985. It was then that Albino, a computer programmer, stumbled upon her passion in an antique store in Provincetown. In a basket by the cash register, she found an old postcard depicting an image of her alma mater.
It was the message on the back, from a young woman who "had a fine time" visiting a friend at the college, that sparked Albino's interest. For her, the brief message opened up questions, and fantasies, of what the college was like in bygone days.
It would be years until she found any more like it. In 1991, while living in Los Angeles, a visit to a flea market yielded 28 used Mount Holyoke postcards. In addition, a conversation with the dealer opened Albino's eyes to the community of postcard collectors who sell their finds at postcard shows.
After moving back to Massachusetts in 1996, Albino became a familiar face on the regional circuit.
"There are a few postcard shows each month throughout New England," said Albino. "If you're willing to go to New Hampshire, or Rhode Island, you can go to a postcard show almost every weekend, if you want."
Albino began supplementing her collection with trips from her home in Cambridge to the Mount Holyoke archives. There, she would dig up information on the names, graduation dates, and background of her "postcard ladies."
From Web to page
In 1996, Albino first went public with her collection. A Web-savvy friend suggested that Albino display her work on the Internet. In this first incarnation, Albino offered 125 postcards, and corresponding research into their senders.
As the her site grew, so did the interest of viewers. Albino began receiving letters from people who were having trouble viewing the postcards quickly enough. She decided that a published book could be a more user-friendly medium for her findings.
Through her research, she was aware of a postcard history series published by Arcadia. She wrote them with a book proposal, which was accepted.
Within three months, Albino provided them with a manuscript.
The finished book, titled Postcard History Series: Mount Holyoke College, contains postcards that Albino chose mainly for their written content. According to Albino, the selections touch upon universal themes among students, such as the drudgery of exams, not getting a good night's sleep, and having too much fun to study.
Some are not so universal. Albino included two postcards that mention a 1910 sighting of Halley's comet, and one which makes reference to a 1918 flu epidemic.
With a portion of her collection now in print, Albino has many ideas for expanding her project. Among her plans, she is considering translating her collection of Mount Holyoke songbooks into electronic versions, via sound software. She also might start collections of postcards from other area colleges, or other of the Seven Sister schools.
She's also thinking of publishing some of the Mount Holyoke postcards that didn't grab her initial interest.
"If I did another series, I'd love to do the ones that have the beautiful pictures," she said.
"Postcard History Series: Mount Holyoke College" may be purchased for $19.99 at Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, and Booklink Booksellers, Thorne's Market, Northampton, among other vendors.