I am delighted to present our first guest blog!  Today’s post was written by Becky Malament, a recent UMBC graduate.  As part of her internship project with the Historical Society, Becky cataloged a collection of postcards – including many from the Lynch family of DC – donated by Joyce Candland.  Here is Becky’s perspective on the project.  -Joanna

With the progression of time, things are always constantly changing. New things are always being invited and discovered, buildings are always being built up and torn down, and one thing we tend to think is that people change along with everything else. And while that might be true in some ways, such as communication (no Facebook, or cell phones or texting in 1910!), people in some respects are always the same in that they always have and always will communicate.

This month, the blog highlights the life and friendship of a young woman named Agnes L. Lynch, through postcards sent to and from her among herself, her friends, and family members. From the 1920 Census we know that Agnes was born in 1907 and she lived in Washington DC with her father William and her mother Zella.

From postcards that are housed in the Montgomery County Historical Society’s collections, we know that the family would travel, possibly for vacation, to Hagerstown somewhat frequently, and that Agnes’ father William would travel often, but would stay in touch with his wife and daughter through the mail when he did.

“My Dear little girl, I will send a postal be a good little Baby and come home to  see papa a kiss to you dear  By by sweetheart [your] Papa.”  (Washington, DC, Nov 11, 1909)

Agnes also kept in touch with many friends and distant relatives by mail.

“Dear Agnes.- I wish you a happy birthday. I hope all are well. With great love, Undine. xxxxxxxxxxxxxx” (Cleveland, OH, March 12, 1916.  Undine was Agnes’ cousin.)

Though due to the greater challenge of communicating with loved ones in the past compared to the ease of communication today, loved ones still maintained frequent communication with each other throughout history. It is incredible and fascinating to see – through letters and stories to and from Agnes – how life, while different in regards to technology and world events, was similar if not identical to the way life is today. People loved each other, people went to work and school, people got sick, and people lived life together. No matter how much the world around us changes, people are still people no matter what year it is, and that seems unlikely to change!

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I’d planned to use this postcard for July anyway, but last week’s crazy wind-and-lightning storm made it a teeny bit more appropriate.  Though the card’s image of the Smithsonian Castle was probably intended to convey ‘Impressive Edifice at Night,’ it seems hilariously Gothic; no actual lightning bolts are striking the tower, but they’re gathering in those looming clouds!  All it needs is an imperiled girl with a billowing cape, running frantically away from the forbidding castle.

But on to the message.  The card is addressed to Miss Ethel Walters (actually Waters) of Gaithersburg, postmarked in DC on July 22, 1910, and signed Annie Bartle.  The rest is in shorthand. (Click to enlarge.)


This presented something of a problem.  Thanks to a few of the Society’s volunteers [Hi Dorothy!] I have some Gregg shorthand books in my reference bookcase, but once I got beyond the guessable  greeting of “Dear” I was stuck.  Happily, our Office Assistant volunteered her mother, the talented Diana Malament, who translated Miss Bartle’s message for us easily:

July 20, 1910.  Dear Ethel, Received a package from Helen.  Hope you are having a nice vacation.  Mr. Kelley is staying in our class; Mr. Barnes will leave the fifth of August.  When are you coming back to school?  Let me hear from you soon.  Annie Bartle 340 10 St SE

Nothing terribly earth shattering there, just your average over-the-break card to a friend. In this case, it’s the language, and the people, that tell us a little more.

Sixteen year old Annie Bartle can be found in the 1910 census on 10th St SE, living with her grandmother, a grocer.  Ethel Louise Waters was also born in 1894; she attended Gaithersburg High School and DC’s Strayer Business College.  In 1919, she married Merle T. Jacobs, and they raised their family in Gaithersburg.  (Their son Charles, and his wife Marian, donated this card, among others.)  Mrs. Jacobs worked for the Montgomery County Public School system for many years, as a clerk in the Superintendent’s office from 1916 to 1924, and as the principal’s secretary at Gaithersburg HS from 1934 to 1956.  (Below is the Superintendent’s Office staff, from the 1918-1919 Maryland State Board of Education report; if the image is cut off on your viewer, you can click it to see the whole thing.)


There are different official methods of shorthand (not including the ones invented by individuals for their own use), Pitman and Gregg being the most famous; they are still in use today, though in much more specialized ways.   I’d always associated shorthand, and the stenographers who used it, with the early 20th century, but it’s a much older concept than that; Samuel Pepys’ 17th century diary is in shorthand, and the Pitman method was developed in the early 1800s.  By the late 19th century stenography was an important skill, one that made you much more employable.  Business schools sprang up in cities across the country; in DC, where the Federal government was one of the main employers, they were particularly popular.  Strayer – where Ethel eventually studied – was founded in 1892, and opened a branch in DC in 1904.  The July 24, 1910 classified ads* in the Washington Post include an ad for Strayer’s “Special Summer Courses, day and night, in shorthand, typewriting, bookkeeping, civil service, &c.” as well as ads for other schools and shorthand courses. The “help wanted” section on the same date includes several ads looking for both male and female (slightly more for the former) stenographers and typewriters (the skill, not the machine).  Plus, rather touchingly, someone lost their Pitman shorthand book in Judiciary Park (sic) and offered a reward for its return.

By the early 20th century stenography was being slowly replaced by typewriting. Both skills, and the professions that used them, were also shifting from a male domain to a female one.  This chart shows the growing percentage of female “clerical workers” in the 20th century America, and this article in the London Review of Books (2008) cites examples of shifting attitudes toward shorthand’s appropriate gender.  Ethel and Annie took advantage of this new avenue for employment and independence by learning shorthand and other skills; though we don’t yet know what happened to Annie, Ethel put it to good use in her career with the school system.

*If you ever need an idea for a novel, read old classified ads.  Dozens of stories spring just from this day’s listings.  Other than an unfortunate emphasis on “colored” or “white” preferences, and a feeling that some ad responders are about to be scammed out of their life savings (you can make extra money by growing mushrooms in your cellar!), they’re pretty fantastic.

If it’s the first Wednesday of the month, it must be postcard week!

Here’s a nice view of “The Mountains from Clarksburg.” It might even be an accurate view, unlike the images shown on many of the “Greetings From [Your Town Here]” cards, since you’d think a generic card would try harder to show some of the promised mountains. (Nothing against our lovely Blue Ridge!) Though Clarksburg has recently been developed, there are still views like this to be had in the area.

The card is postmarked Burdette, Md, 1912. Burdette was a small community near Boyds and Clarksburg, with a post office, school, and hotel. Addressed to Miss Rose Dawson, Rockville, Mont Co, Md., the message reads:

Hello Rose, Guess you miss Miss Hepburn lots don’t you? Really I don’t miss her half so much as I do the girls, especially “tu.” Ray W.

Rose Kiger Dawson (1896-1979) grew up in South Dakota, and moved back to her father’s home, Rockville, in 1911. (Her arrival dress has been featured here before.) She attended Rockville High School, a.k.a. Montgomery County H.S.; today it is Richard Montgomery H.S.

The first yearbook or annual published by the school came out in 1927; for earlier years, we have to rely on other sources for tidbits about school life. Though the postmark is too blurry to get the exact date, this card has a “school’s out for summer” vibe to it; in fact the message reads, to me, a lot like the kind of thing you write in your friend’s yearbook, hoping to keep yourself in their mind for the few months before school starts again.

“Miss Hepburn” was Alice E. Hepburn, one of the teachers at Rockville High School in the 1910s and early 1920s. I haven’t found too much about her, though she appears in faculty lists, annual reports, and the occasional “Society” article, and in the 1920 census can be found boarding with another teacher in Rockville. One presumes that she taught French, unless Ray W. was being particularly coy. Depending on how you read the message, either Miss Hepburn and Rose had a nice teacher-student bond . . . or they really didn’t.

Above: Members of the Rockville High School faculty, circa 1914.  Though not all of the people have been identified, Miss Hepburn is in the back row at the far right.

As for Ray W., for now he is lost to history, though one assumes he lived in Montgomery County. Perhaps he and his family spent the summer at the High View House Hotel in Burdette?

[edited: to remove mistaken reference to a train station]

…And we’re back! Since I’ve just returned from a short trip to Minneapolis, for the American Association of Museums annual meeting, I thought a vacation souvenir would be appropriate for May’s postcard entry.

When you live here, it can be easy to forget that Montgomery County is a destination for tourists and business travelers. (Sorry, Conference & Visitors Bureau!) Many of the cards in our collections were acquired, written and mailed by out-of-town visitors. Some depict local ‘sights,’ such as the Cabin John Bridge or the Naval Hospital; others advertise hotels, motels and restaurants. I like this card because it simply shows downtown Damascus, circa 1950.

This Silvercraft card was published by C.H. Ruth of Washington, D.C.  In the 1940s-60s, Mr. (?) Ruth published a wide variety of postcards – both black and white and color – from up and down the east coast. “Main Street, Damascus, Md.” is part of a series; we have similar cards showing other everyday buildings and scenes in Damascus and Gaithersburg. Shown here, if I am reading the tiny signs correctly, are Whitesell Pharmacy and the Damascus Feed Food Store. Main Street consists of the downtown-Damascus section of Route 108. I think this brick building is still standing, next to the Druid Theatre (now a drug store). . . any Damascus residents want to confirm or deny?

The card is postmarked 1952 and addressed to Mrs. Mary Mark of Cleveland, Ohio. The message reads: “4-9-52. Hello – you never know where you will hear from us from next, do you? Was going to call you Tuesday but didn’t get around to it. Mildred lives about a mile from here. Nice place. We will probably be back sometime Sat. Pretty warm down here, wind is pretty strong and chilly, too. Don’t know if we’ll go on to Washington or not. See you one of these days. Love, Ellen & Bob.” The identities of the senders and receiver (and Mildred, for that matter) are now unknown. Presumably Ellen and Bob were in Damascus visiting Mildred, and sent a quick report to their friend Mary, who may or may not live “back home” (maybe Mary’s a neighbor; maybe all four were college friends. . . so many possibilities!).

So if we don’t know who these people are, what’s the point? We acquired this postcard largely because of the documentary aspect of the photograph on the front. However, the message on the back serves as a reminder of the ordinary, everyday (and I mean that in the most positive sense) lives that have been, and are being, lived in Montgomery County. Sure, we often focus on Big Names, Major Events and Famous Buildings (relatively speaking), but in the broader sense, the county’s history is much more about, say, college friends getting back together for a quick visit and maybe some sightseeing in D.C. (Yes, I am enamored of my college-friend theory.) Damascus may not feature any Famous Buildings, but it is, as Ellen sums up, a “nice place,” worthy of a souvenir postcard or two.

During the postcard’s heyday, 1900s-1910s, an astonishing variety of holiday cards was published and sent. Where we would send greeting cards (or an email) today, friends and family in the 1910s sent a postcard. And not just for Christmas, Valentine’s Day or birthdays; there were cards for Thanksgiving, New Year’s, St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, Easter, and even Groundhog Day.

Holiday postcards are not always quite as interesting – in terms of random snippets of history – as more everyday greetings are, because the message is often restricted to something like “thinking of you this holiday season.”  (Although there is entertainment value in those greetings of the past; when’s the last time someone sent you their “Hearty best wishes,” or hopes for “A Joyous Eastertide”?)

Some of the Easter cards in our collection are fairly standard, containing, along with the holiday greetings, complaints about not getting a real letter (or apologies for not sending one); updates on the sender’s family; best wishes for the recipient’s health and happiness. A few were sent to young children, and include cute messages about the Easter Bunny and/or egg hunts. The card below, sent to Billy Hazard of Garrett Park in 1916, assures the almost-three year old that “the bunny will be real good to you.” The Easter bunny tradition is an old one, and it’s fun to see the evidence of that from nearly 100 years ago.

Yesterday, my coworkers Jennie and Taylor had a lucky find at a local antique store: an Easter postcard with a particularly fabulous message. In 1908, an unidentified J.E. of Richmond Va. sent this card to her friend Miss Bertie Higgins of Rockville, with the message,

“Hello, Bert, how are you? I suppose you will come out in a ‘six footer’ Sunday. Mine is a Merry Widow but not six feet from brim to brim, because, you see it would be all hat and no girl. Happy Easter to you all.”

It’s a joke about their Easter “bonnets” (in this case, giant wide-brimmed hats)! How great is that? We’re finishing up a “Year of the Hat” exhibit series, you see, and the recurring popularity of wide-brimmed hats has been featured many times. (On this blog, as well – here’s a “Merry Widow” style being sold by Miss Darby of Gaithersburg.) Another example of how satisfying it is to find a primary source, even a minor one, that shows some truth within your research. Now if only it was a photo postcard (however pretty this angel-themed Easter card, below, may be), showing Roberta Higgins (age 21) and her unknown friend, it would be perfect.

Credits: Billy Hazard’s card donated by the Barth family; Bertie Higgins’ card, MCHS purchase.  Other cards: “Easter Greetings,” with rabbits and a giant “river scene”-featuring egg, sent to Mrs. Charles Waters of Germantown in 1910 “with much love from Cousin P.J. Jones,” donated by Charles T. Jacobs.    “A Joyous Eastertide,” ca. 1915, wishing Mr. Raleigh Chinn in Brookeville “a happy Eastertide” from Cousin Rose, donated by Jane Chinn Sween. 

P.S. Happy Passover, too!

Postcards are an (almost) endless source of information, from the image on the front to the text on the back. Often the publisher is the least interesting part – to a local historian, at least – but occasionally the publisher, printer or photographer is a local individual or business, and one’s Montgomery County history radar is engaged.

Above: Front and back of “Brookville Road, Chevy Chase, Md., Publ. by Mrs. M.E. Brooke, Chevy Chase, Md.”  Postmarked April 21, 1912, and addressed to Miss K. Beham, Roxbury, Ct.: “Hector said you wanted to hear from me.  Hope all are well.  Jessie.  222 Ontario Wash. DC.”

While going through our postcard collection here at MCHS, I noticed many cards – particularly from the down-county area – published by Mrs. Minnie E. Brooke of Chevy Chase. Intrigued, I did a little research in our library . . . couldn’t find much, other than the census records . . . finally pinned her down as Mrs. Minnehaha [awesome!] “Minnie” Etheridge Brooke, wife of Wentworth Brooke and at one point owner of the Brooke Farm* restaurant in Chevy Chase. I then went to the internet for additional info . . .

. . . And discovered that Minnie and her postcard business are well-known, and are featured on not one but two local websites: The Chevy Chase Historical Society has a great online exhibit on Minnie and her many social projects and business ventures, and this site takes more of a postcard-collector view.  (Be sure to click at least one of those to check out Minnie’s portrait.)  So much for my groundbreaking research. No matter! Minnie Brooke’s story is pretty great, and it fits in with the theme of Women’s History Month, so I will blog onward.

Mrs. Brooke was born in North Carolina, and married Wentworth Brooke in 1896. The census gives only a glimpse (if that) of Minnie’s work as a suffragist, club manager, restaurateur, hotelier and postcard publisher; in fact, her occupation is noted as “none” in the 1900 and 1910 censuses, and the 1930 census lists both husband and wife as “salesmen.” (Neither Minnie nor Wentworth appears in the 1920 census, confusingly enough.) No hint here that this entrepreneurial woman managed the Cosmos Club in DC; ran several successful restaurants and tea rooms in the DC area, including the Brooke Farm Inn (sometimes called Mrs. Brooke’s Tea Room) on Brookville Road; belonged to the National Woman’s Party, helped organize the 1913 suffrage parade in DC, and often stood on the side of Pennsylvania Avenue espousing the suffrage cause; started a mini-publishing industry with her penny postcards; and eventually operated a souvenir shop in DC. (She died in 1938.) Thus are the limitations of my beloved census revealed.  But of course, any record that lists the majority of female residents as having “no occupation” (which is often demonstrably false, even discounting the work performed in the household) should be viewed with some skepticism.

The Chevy Chase Historical Society’s online exhibit has even more information on Minnie, and on the postcard craze she hoped to cash in on; they also have many of her Chevy Chase cards visible, as does the other site linked above. Her cards focus on the down-county area (Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Great Falls) and the District of Columbia. Currently it’s unknown if she took the photos herself, or purchased images from other photographers. The cards included here from our collections show Brookville Road in Chevy Chase (donated by Joseph Valachovic), and Rock Creek Park in DC (donated by the Dwyer family).

Above: Front and back of “View of Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C., Publ. by Minnie E. Brooke, Chevy Chase, Md.”  Postmarked October 26, 1907, and addressed to Mrs. D.J. Dwyer, Unity, Montg. Co., Maryland: “Dear Aunt Susie.  Aunt Ida was down three days last week.  Isn’t this beautiful weather.  Hope you are well. Love to Uncle Dave and a share for yourself.  Jennie.”

*The Brooke Farm restaurant, also known as Mrs. Brooke’s Tea Room and Brook Farm, was owned by Minnie Brooke from the 1890s into the 1920s; it was operated under the same name(s) by other owners later in the century, and the cottage-like building is now home to La Ferme Restaurant.

We have a lot of postcards in our collections.  Those that features local scenes are accessible in our research library, as part of our photograph resources.  I love postcards, and while I appreciate the photos on the front, it’s the messages on the back that are the best part: little snippets of life; some clear, some cryptic, almost always entertaining.  (And yes,  I will be one of the people enjoying archived Twitter accounts at the Library of Congress in 50 years.)

Here’s a great card. First, the more obviously ‘useful’ aspect:  This photographic card shows High View House Hotel, Burdette, Md.  Montgomery County was home to many summer resorts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, enticing D.C. residents out of the sultry city and into the fresh air of the countryside; many of these hotels were down-county, but the Metropolitan Line railroad meant that up-county communities could get in on the game as well.  In 1887, Somerset T. Williams built a 22 room hotel in Burdette, outside Boyds (a stop on the Line).  He named it High View thanks to its, well, high view over Ten Mile Creek.  It was also known as the Burdette Hotel.  (The building is still standing, I believe; it is a private residence.)  This photo shows a small crowd of people (and possibly one or more dogs) sitting on the porch; doesn’t it look nice and shady?  I’d stay there.

Now for the fun part.  The card is addressed to Miss Wottie King, Germantown, and postmarked Boyds, September 9, 1909.  The message reads: “Dear Wottie – come down with Norman when he brings my skirt, for I want to see you.  Mabel.”

Fantastic!  Who are Mabel and Wottie?  Is Mabel staying at the hotel, or does she live near it?  Did she meet Wottie at the hotel, or do they know each other some other way? Who is Norman, and why does he have Mabel’s skirt?  We may never know (at least not about the skirt), but it’s fun to try and find out.  I get a teenager vibe from this, perhaps wrongly.  I’ve started poking around the census looking for Wottie and Mabel, with no definitive results as yet though I may have found a pair of 14 year olds who fit the bill.  Anyone have an idea what name “Wottie” might be short for?