Missouri Digital Heritage :: Collections :: Digital Collections

Digital Collections

Missouri State Archives Collections

Since the invention of the dry, glass plate negative, photography has been used to document the many functions of state government.  Government photographers have used this medium to record government activity, events, building projects, industry, and recreation in the state. This work, in combination with a variety of local history photograph collections, has resulted in a large body of photographic material with endless research possibilities. The Missouri State Archives is committed to making its visual resources available to everyone and will continue to provide digital collections online to accommodate both the researcher and casual browser.


Progress Amidst Prejudice: Portraits of African Americans
in Missouri, 1880-1920

African American Portrait Collection

When the daguerreotype was first introduced in 1839, it was primarily members of the upper class who could afford to sit for the photographer. However, the cabinet card, introduced in the 1860s and popularized by the late 1870s, made it possible for everyone, rich and poor, to have their likeness made. Following development of this affordable means of creating images, photo studios sprang up on virtually every main street in America. Photographs became not only cheap, but could be duplicated as often as needed, and for the first time, family photos could easily be collected and assembled in photo albums for display.

By the late nineteenth century African Americans had the opportunity to participate in the phenomenon of portrait photography. Despite low earnings as barbers, laborers, cooks, or laundresses, they could afford to buy or sew at least one nice suit or an attractive dress. Like white Americans, black Americans proudly dressed in their best clothes and posed for portraits. At the Missouri State Archives, one can find examples of how African Americans saw themselves a generation after slavery - as dignified, proud, hard working, and self-sufficient members of their communities.

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Mary Alice Hansen Postcard Collection

Mary Alice Hansen Postcard Collection

The postcard originated in 1869 in Europe as a cheap means of brief communications between friends and family and the trend quickly became popular in America. These initial cards were very plain until 1898, when the United States Post Office no longer had a monopoly on this form of letter writing. Once it relinquished some control over the format, publishers proliferated and small illustrations were widely used on the front of the cards.

In 1907, the U. S. Post Office permitted the use of the divided back card, allowing the message and mailing address to appear on one side, thereby making it possible for the entire front of the card to be used for imagery. Since then, millions of color postcards have been traded by collectors. These view cards documented people, places, and events all over America. Printing processes continued to improve and there has proved no end to card subject matter. Today, postcard collecting has its own name, "deltiology," and is the nation's third most popular hobby outside of coin and stamp collecting.

Mary Alice Hansen was a Minnesota deltiologist who extensively traveled Missouri. Her nephew, David Quick, donated 209 color and black and white postcards his aunt collected to the Missouri State Archives. The images document Missouri buildings, industry, and culture from the early twentieth century and primarily include Springfield, St. Louis, and St. Charles, but the collection also contains many of Missouri's smaller communities. For instance one can view the 1912 high school graduation class in Wellsville, or a bustling downtown scene of Monett. Of particular interest are the photographic postcards covering the Branson area and the Missouri Ozarks. This collection will serve as the first of many small postcard collections to appear online so that patrons can view Missouri's historic landscape in what is still a very popular image format.

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A Photograph Exhibit at the Office of the Secretary of State

Missouri Memories: A History in Photographs

Photographs elicit different responses from people. Sometimes photographs are principally documentary, communicating facts about a time, a place, or an event. Often, the photographer's purpose is to convey beauty. The true meaning of a particular image can be elusive and even change over time. The study of history through visual collections challenges what we think we know about the past.

Missouri history can be mined in the hundreds of thousands of photographs, negatives, and slides held by the Missouri State Archives. Photography has been, and continues to be, an important method for understanding our industry, recreation, and natural landscape. As time passes, the contemporary photograph becomes a historical record and provides a window to the past. The Missouri State Archives has displayed 63 images from several collections in the hallways of the State Information Center. We hope these images either surprise you with something you did not know, remind you of something you did, or charm you with the unexpected.

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