Postcard Collector, May 2002

Mount Holyoke College

[Book Cover]

[Unfortunately, Postcard Collector doesn't archive their back issues on the web, but this is the text of the article, and the picture displayed.]


By Jennifer Henderson

Having reviewed 31 Arcadia books since April 1997, I rarely get excited about the words rather than the pictures; however, with this collection of postcards entirely from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., my reaction was to read the book from cover to cover, devouring the captions. What's so special about them? These particular captions are composed primarily of messages written on the fronts and backs of postcards. When this book by Donna Albino arrived in the mail, it brought me to a place about which I previously knew nothing.

Some of these messages are just dandy. Florence Davoll wrote to her Mamma in 1909 about a reception she attended where "we had chocolate ice cream, ladies fingers and cookies with green frosting, and you know everyone eats with their silk and kid gloves on so i did and got some green on my thumb. When I got home I put the end of [the] thumb in water and nearly all of it came out, so I guess it didn't hurt my gloves." That's just the kind of missive a loving mother wants to receive.

Starting in 1985 with her first postcard purchase from a Cape Cod antique shop, Albino has gathered more than 1,100 cards from her alma mater (she graduated in 1983). What intrigued her most was the correspondence, and it makes a compelling study. Not content to just decipher the handwriting, she grew curious about the people who sent these postcards. Using the college archives, she searched out as much information as possible about them. After making a list of names, Albino set out to unveil her "postcard ladies," learning when they attended, who graduated, which girls were related to other alumnae and where they went after college.

Captions for each card include the postmark date (when visible, an inscription in bold that spells out what was written on either side and something about the sender's identity or the building pictured. These girls could have been roommates, classmates, or travel companions, might have stayed on to become instructors after graduation or may have had mothers, sisters or daughters who also attended teh school. Several of the students were proud of where they lived and marked their room with an "X" as referred to in the postcard messages.

In 1837, Mount Holyoke started as a girls' school - a female seminary - with students planning to become missionaries or teachers. The school evolved into a college by the 1890s and grew to be respected for its science curriculum. Early on, to lower tuition expenses, the girls were required to do unpaid domestic chores. This kept them very busy as they not only had classes to study for, but were also responsible for household duties. We "paint and plant, wash and iron, cook and eat, sew and sleep, takes up most of the time" wrote an unidentified student.

Besides occupying themselves with school and housework, these young women kept up with news of the day. Louise Freeland Jenkins, who went on to teach astronomy, wrote in January 1910, "I s'pose you have heard about the new comet ... I saw a little of the tail last night." That was Halley's Comet, a popular postcard topic that year.

The ten chapter headings are as charming as the captions. From the opening chapters that take phrases from postcard writers who informed loved ones that I've Arrived Safely and I Love It Here! they deal more with the handwritten inscriptions than the actual cards. Subsequent chapters cover Busy Days, Too Much Work!, Campus Events, Student Traditions (including seniors in their expansive graduation gowns who jumped rope, while juniors were required to spin tops and sing simultaneously), Packages from Home, Pride in the College, Come Visit! and Alumnae on Campus (which features messages from several years' class reunions). Albino's historical details, combined with the postcard messages, read like one big happy family. In fact on one card issued for the fifth anniversary of the Class of 1904, the "class baby" Ruth Hanna Tenny went on to graduate from the college in 1929 following in her mother's footsteps.

These personal-life tidbits are just wonderful, and if it had not been for postcards we wouldn't have access to them now. I was delighted to learn that in 1958, "the hoola-hoop has even invaded Mount Holyoke," according to Jean Colyer who graduated four years later. The author has done a praiseworthy job with her collection. Figuring out who's who among her postcard ladies really enhances this Arcadia edition.

Mount Holyoke College by Donna Albino (ISBN: 0-7385-0518-8) was published in 2001 as part of the Postcard History Series by Arcadia Publishing. The 128-page trade paperback measures 6-1/2" by 9-1/4" and is available from the author for $25 postage paid. She would be happy to autograph copies, too, and if your purchase the book directly from her, $10 of the purcase price will go to the Jolene Fund at Mount Holyoke. Write Donna Albino, 455 Belmont St, East Bridgewater, MA 02333 or email dalbino@mhc.mtholyoke.edu.