Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Postcards from the Green

The first postcard ever sent was in Austria in 1869, but it took a few years for the trend to catch on in the United States. The U.S. Post Office issued its first postcard in 1873. However, it was not until 1907, when postcards were allowed the divided back for a message and the address on one side and a full picture on the other, that postcards hit their "Golden Age." As photographic technology improved, postcards gained the ability to showcase the daily lives of the senders. At Dartmouth, postcards have been used throughout the years to promote the college, give family back home and idea of what is happening, or simply to let someone know they are missed. Looking at Dartmouth postcards over time shows how much has changed in Hanover in the last century - and what has stayed the same.

Viewing old postcards, it is easier to spot changes at Dartmouth than what has stayed the same. The first Ledyard Bridge, for example, was built in 1859 and bears little resemblance to the current uncovered bridge. The view of campus was very different, with more tress and lacking a number of notable buildings. However, some landmarks, such as Webster Hall (which now houses Rauner Library) and Baker Library, built in 1928, remain the same. A 1932 postcard of the Tower Room bears a photo that looks like it could have been taken in 2013. Often, the biggest changes in iconic areas such as the Green are the people. In some postcards, the changes are minute, such as different clothing styles or cars. The most starkly divergent postcard in Dartmouth's collection is from World War II, bearing a photo of military men in uniform arrayed in formation on the Green in uniform, with Baker Library and Webster Hall in the background.

Perhaps the most revealing postcard in terms of changes at Dartmouth is not a photograph, but instead a miniature poster from 1916. Nate, the author and a member of the class of 1920, wrote his father "This is a miniature of the poster that all Freshmen must buy." The poster addresses, "Ye Puny Prodigals of Prep-school, Ye Pups of Ignorance, Ye Illiterate Imbeciles:" in other words, the freshman class. The class of 1919 lays forth twelve rules for the class of 1920 to follow, including the need to wear a "cute green cap with a monstrous white button" and to "never short-cut across the grass." While the college no longer allows such hazing of freshmen, Nate's writing on the postcard is similar to that of a quick e-mail home. He requests curtains for his dorm room windows, asks how everything is at home and of course tells his father of all the work he has to get done before his vacation Friday. Check out Dartmouth's postcard collection to see the evolution of other aspects of Dartmouth, from fraternity houses to Winter Carnival, in 3 1/2 by 5-inch tidbits.

Ask for Rauner Iconography 1523 to see all 1400 plus postcards.

Posted for Kate Taylor '13


  1. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a great blog like this one nowadays..

  2. Thanks Michael--I am glad you like the blog. We did the customization ourselves. This particular post was written by one of our student employees. You are right, she is an excellent writer.

  3. Thanks for the tip. This could be a lot of fun. LOVE the picture of the Tower Room. A similar shot was used in the Brad Pitt film A River Runs Through It. You have to be quick to spot it but I did.

  4. Loved the picture of the Tower Room. A similar shot was seen in the Brad Pitt film A River Runs Through It. Just flashed by for a second but it was there.