by Alethea Drexler
The McGovern Research Center’s collection of postcards of Texas hospitals has been online for quite a while, and can be accessed through our website. Our postcard images are arranged alphabetically by town, and you can see scans of both sides of the card. Most cards are still blank on the back, but some have messages. If you haven’t seen them, I would encourage you to take a few minutes on your lunch break and browse, as they are quite interesting.
Most of the postcards with writing are remarkably alike: Either begging the recipient to write, or thanking him or her for having done so, commenting on the weather, assuring them that everyone is fine. Mostly, they are very short, although a few individuals with supernatural powers both of eyesight and penmanship managed to squeeze in entire paragraphs of tiny, yet legible, script in the few square inches of space that the back of a postcard provides. Believe me, I’m impressed.
I was looking through the postcard boxes for another project and decided to post some of the messages on this week’s blog post.
Some are purely descriptive. This one from the state tuberculosis sanatorium near San Angelo, taken in the 1920’s, reads: “The first girl on this row is my roommate Bessie Smith.” No, not that Bessie Smith, obviously, but I guess being on a postcard is a minor form of celebrity (I once made the cover of my college’s course catalog. Does that count?).
Tuberculosis was once a serious public health concern in the United States and hospitals devoted to its treatment were common. The sanatorium near San Angelo functioned as a near-self-sufficient colony, with a dairy and workshops. These girls are sleeping on a porch: Fresh air, even in cold weather, was part of the treatment in the days before antibiotics.
A young lady wrote to her friend in Dallas in 1911: “How are you, little pet? Hope you are fin[e] fat & saucy. You must write to me dear. Don’t you wish you were in one of these auto’s? Bye bye your friend . . .” The car at far left is an early Buick. We have older postcards of the Hot Well Sanitarium that are almost identical, except that they have horses and buggies outside. Apparently the Hot Well was eager to be seen as modern.
Many of our postcards have fanciful color schemes. I’ve seen the same building colored red in one image, then white in another. I’m a little skeptical that the Hot Well Sanitarium was ever painted pink, white, and lime green.
I don’t think the lady who addressed the card below was a patient at Lubbock’s West Texas Hospital because she noted that “we stayed across from here xmas eve”, but she wrote to her mother in Austin in December, 1928, to say: “Rec’d the fruit cake today “Wed” As soon as I got it unwrapped I cut myself a slice. It surely did taste yum yum. I was tickled pea green and pink to get it. I am glad it’s larger than the one last year. Cause I wanted more last year.”
The longevity of fruit cake is a running holiday joke now, but it was a popular item to send through the mail at least as far back as the mid-nineteenth century because the fact that it was traditionally pickled in alcohol prevented it from spoiling in the days before overnight express.
Some seem to be tongue-in-cheek. Gene sent this card to San Antonio in 1939 with the line: “This is the best card in the City of Rusk.” I don’t know if he was that happy with his treatment at the Rusk State Hospital, a prison-turned-mental hospital, or if he was being facetious. I think it was probably the latter.
Another wag who identified him- or herself only as “K” told the Cook family in Austin that s/he was “Doing Paris in an automobile” for the Fourth of July, 1910. Paris, Texas, that is. I wonder if there really was an automobile involved; even Paris, Texas, by automobile would have been a novel excursion in 1910.
Health spas built around hot springs or mineral-water wells were very popular in the nineteenth and early 20th centuries. Even Jane Austen’s characters go to Bath (named for, yes, Roman baths) to drink the water. Carl wrote from Mineral Wells to his mother in Pueblo, Colorado, in 1917: “am sending you one gallon of concentrated mineral water. Should be at Wells Fargo Exp office by the time you get this card – use as directed. Think it will be good for you and the kid both. Am feeling some better.”
Concentrated mineral water? Does that mean you have to add . . . water?
Mary, writing from the Wood & Wood Sanitarium in Hubbard, in 1912, was less impressed: “There is a well connected with this Sanitarium which is recommended for most every thing. It ought to be helpful for it is bad enough. I drank it once.”
At least the building is lovely. One might feel a little like Scarlett O’Hara with those big Ionic columns.
A few of the messages sent home are quite sad.
Gracia wrote from the North Texas Hospital (in either 1908 or 1918; the postmark is incomplete): “This is where I am living in the same old way. Bug house life.” The black-and-white photograph, evidently taken in the winter when the trees were bare, provides a striking visual.
This one of the imposing Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio has nothing on the back but notes: “Where Lula passed away, Mch 24th 1905-” Apparently whoever wrote it wanted it as a memorial.
This one from 1907, which is another image of the North Texas Hospital in Terrell, has a bit of a poem based on a familiar old song:
“Be it ever so humble,
There is no place like home.
I meet every train for sister,
But she doesn’t come.”
This makes me think of a the book Had a Good Time: Stories from American Postcards, which is a collection of short stories based on found postcards. There’s got to be a good story in this one. And maybe a country song.
And the last one is one of my favorites. There are a few postcards that are not written in English. I found one today that I had not noticed before and figured out, with the help of Google, that it was in Croatian. I didn’t expect to find this, though:
The back is typed in red ink: “Kara Kunfrato; Mi ricivis la unuan numeron de Int. Medicino sed ne la lastan; mi plezure prunteprenos gin de vi. Mi konas Dro. Dillon sed li ne estas Esperantisto. Mi penis varbi lin por la movado sed ne povis. Skribu al li pri Esperanto. Du estas pli fortaj ol unu. Skribu ankau al via Kongresanoj pri House bill #22o kiu koncernas Esperanto. Salutoj,”
Yes. It’s in Esperanto. It was sent from Lewis, Kansas to West Branch, Iowa, in 1912.
Roughly translated: “I received the first numeral [volume?] of Int. Medicine but not the last; I happily will borrow [gin?] from you. I know Dr. Dillon but he is not an Esperanto speaker. I endeavored to recruit him for the movement but couldn’t. Write to him about Esperanto. Two is stronger than one. Write also to your congressmen about House bill #220 which concerns Esperanto. Salutations,”
I was unable to find anything of note about House Bill 220, so it appears that the United States was never gearing up to adopt Esperanto as a national language.
by Alethea Drexler