Postcard Collector, August and September 2003

The Underwood & Underwood Real Photo Postcards of Mount Holyoke College


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

By Donna Albino

My collection of Mount Holyoke College (South Hadley, Mass.) postcards contains several real photo series that I've been working on diligently, hoping to complete them in my lifetime. One series I've enjoyed collecting was published by Underwood & Underwood in New York.

According to the research I conducted on Underwood & Underwood, it was a company founded by two brothers, Elmer and Bert Underwood, in Ottawa, Kansas in 1880. They started their business with door to door sales of stereoscopic photographs. They worked hard to improve their business methods and became the exclusive agency for three prominent stereographic publishers. They opened branch offices in the US, Canada, and Great Britain, and relocated their headquarters to New York City in 1891.

After moving to New York, the Underwood brothers began making their own stereoscopic photographs, and in 1896 they started selling photos to newspapers and magazines. The first group of photographs they sold showed the Graeco-Turkish war, and were taken at the war front by Bert Underwood. By 1901, Underwood and Underwood was producing 25,000 stereoscopic photographs a day, and they were selling 300,000 stereoscopes a year.

By the 1900s, magazine publishers were moving away from using traditional line drawings and engravings, and these magazines created a strong demand for news photographs. By 1904 Underwood & Underwood sent dozens of freelance news photographers out into the world, and set up a sales agency that dominated the news photo field for thirty years. Stereoscopic photos were becoming a smaller part of their business, so in 1920 they sold their collection to Keystone, the other major player in the business. By 1922, Keystone was the last stereoscopic publisher in the world.

In addition to stereoscopic photographs and news photographs, Underwood & Underwood also took advantage of the popularity of picture postcards and published a line of real photo state views. The views were numbered and titled on the front, with the Underwood & Underwood identifier in the bottom right corner. The backs of the postcards were divided and had a simple stamp box. The postcards I have assembled in this series that are postally used date between 1914 and 1919.

After 15 years, I believe I have finally completed the real photo series of Mount Holyoke College images by Underwood & Underwood. I have a series of 20 postcards:

This was an interesting selection of views. All the dormitories were selected. Several smaller homes used as student housing were represented. Buildings that housed the faculty and the college president were selected. Buildings that were important locations for classrooms and campus life were represented. And several popular campus landmarks were selected.

If this is indeed the complete series, there are a few other buildings on campus that were not selected for the series. Several of these have only rarely been depicted on postcards, so it doesn't surprise me that they didn't make this series. Shattuck Hall was the physics and chemistry building, and it was erected in 1892. I have only one postcard that featured it; if it shows up in any other postcard, it shared the limelight with Williston Hall, which was nearby. Everett House served as the college infirmary since 1900, but the only postcard image I have of it is a chrome after it was converted into the Russian language house in 1959.

There were several buildings and other college scenes that were popular postcard subjects that didn't get selected for this series. The Judson was an old hotel that was converted by the College to be student housing in 1908. The Observatory was built in 1881 and is the oldest surviving academic building on the campus. Mary Lyon's gravesite, and views of Upper Lake and Lake Nonotuck (Lower Lake) were also common views.

Why did Underwood and Underwood choose two views of the Field Gate and the President's House, instead of including two of these other campus scenes in this series? The President's House was built in 1908 using donations by alumnae in part to fund it. The Field Gate was built in 1912, just before my earliest postal uses of this series, and was also built with gifted money; I'm guessing that both of these landmarks were being displayed by the College with great pride and gratitude when this series was being photographed around 1914.

Donna Albino can be reached at 455 Belmont St, East Bridgewater, MA 02333; email