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California Family Photograph Album Collection, circa 1890-1955Part of the Edith C. Smith Photograph Collection
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Acquisition Information
  • Historical Note
  • Indexing Terms
  • Scope and Content
  • Arrangement of the California Family Photograph Album Collection

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: California Family Photograph Album Collection
    Date (inclusive): circa 1890-1955
    Collection Number: ECS01.08
    Creator: Multiple families and individuals
    Extent: 2 cubic feet
    Repository: Sourisseau Academy for State and Local History, San Jose State University
    San Jose, California 95192
    Abstract: This collection of photograph albums provides pictorial documentation of the material culture and life events shared by several families living in Northern California during the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. Recurring themes include images of residential life, gatherings of family and friends, travel to cities such as San Francisco, Monterey, Long Beach, and retreats to regions in the Sierra Nevada such as Yosemite, or coastal areas, such as Sea cliff Beach in Santa Cruz.
    Language: English

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Sourisseau Academy. Neither the original photographs nor the digital images held by the Sourisseau Academy may be reproduced, published, or used on the Internet without the expressed, written permission of the Executive Secretary. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Sourisseau Academy as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher. The credit line, "Courtesy of the Edith C. Smith Trust Collection, Sourisseau Academy for State and Local History" must accompany any such use.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], California Family Photograph Album Collection, ECS01.08, [Box number]: [Folder number], Edith C. Smith Photograph Collection, Sourisseau Academy for State and Local History, San Jose State University, San Jose, California

    Acquisition Information

    Albums in the California Family Photograph Album Collection were donated to the Sourisseau Academy by the Edith Corinne Smith Trust between 2003 and 2009.

    Historical Note

    The historical significance within these albums rest on the fact that prior to their creation, amateur photography was too expensive and technically advanced for most Americans. If a person could afford it, a local or itinerant photographer would be hired to create a photograph. Subjects who "sat" for a photography session typically wore their finest clothes and approached the occasion with a degree of formality and poise. For several decades, camera film often required several minutes to be correctly exposed to light, meaning subjects would need to hold the same position and facial expression for several minutes to create a sharp photograph. This often led to photographs that appeared contrived, cold, or impersonal. These limitations started to give way in 1880's with the development of amateur camera equipment, simpler film, and commercial film processing. By the year 1900, middle class families could easily purchase and operate a camera on their own, producing their own photographs. The time of photography for only special occasions had ended; with greater accessibility, homemade photograph albums like those found in this collection became possible. Photography had ascended to a common but culturally significant activity of visually recording life in both the public and private spheres. (1)
    Evidence of the American revolution in automobile technology can also be found in this collection. Prior to the innovations of Henry Ford's Model T in 1908, automobiles were costly toys for the affluent, prone to mechanical problems, poorly standardized, and expensive to maintain (2). With increasing improvements in mass production, the cost of owning an automobile continued to decline. Middle class families could finally experience the freedom of owning an automobile. With a far wider range than a horse drawn carriage, families that had rarely traveled fifty miles beyond their home could now travel hundreds of miles further with relative ease. Numerous portraits with the family automobile and images chronicling travel in the automobile are early demonstrations of a revolution in technology, culture, and travel. It is here, in the early 20th century, that the automobile begins to be seen as not only an essential piece of technology, but a declaration of autonomy, freedom, and success. (3)
    (1) Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler et al. Photographs: Archival Care and Management. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2006.
    (2) James J. Flink, The Automobile Age. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1988.
    (3) Ibid.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms may be used to index this collection.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    California, Northern--History
    Corbus Family
    Cook, Judy Ann
    Cook Family
    Family life
    Family vacations
    Hammond, Berta L.
    Lashell, Laura
    Monterey (Calif.)
    Photograph Albums--19th century
    Photograph Albums--20th century
    Salas Family
    San Jose (Calif.)
    Santa Cruz (Calif.)
    Secrest, Edward
    Turlock (Calif.)

    Scope and Content

    The bulk of this collection consists of photograph albums created by families native to California during the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. This is one of several photograph album collections owned by the Sourisseau Academy that document this period in Californian history. Geographically, images within this collection are especially diverse. While a majority of the photographs were taken in California, portions were taken in South East Asia, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, and Nebraska. Within California, most images were created in Berkeley, Los Gatos, Monterey, San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Cruz. Locales visited by the families include locations such as Seacliff Beach, Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, Yosemite National Park; events included rodeos in Livermore, horse races at Bay meadows, and hunting trips near the Hamilton Mountain Range.

    Arrangement of the California Family Photograph Album Collection

    The albums in this collection are organized numerically.