We began our “50 Years/50 Collections” blog series with a look at the records of the American Missionary Association (AMA) as the foundational collection of the Amistad Research Center. This week we examine a later acquisition of another collection of AMA-related visual materials that greatly enhance understanding of the work of the AMA and similar, primarily Congregationalist, missionary bodies, as well as the rich tapestry of ethnic and immigrant communities across the United States. The American Missionary Photograph Collection, acquired in 1984, contains over 5000 photographs that were taken and collected for use in the AMA’s monthly magazine, The American Missionary.
The American Missionary was launched in October 1846, not long after the formation of the American Missionary Association. Its production and layout followed that of many newspapers and periodicals of the time, containing letters and extracts from missionaries, reports on meetings of religious and antislavery organizations, financial listings of donations received, as well as other news. Illustrations were not prevalent, and those that appeared in early issues were mostly simple woodcuts or engraved maps related to the AMA’s mission in Sierra Leone. As the process of newspaper and magazine illustration developed from engravings to halftones to offset printing, the visual component of the The American Missionary also changed according to emerging technologies. By the early 1900s, photography was a regular feature of the magazine, with each issue containing portraits of missionaries and their families, western missions, the rural South, immigrant populations in urban centers of the North, churches and schools, etc.
The American Missionary Photograph Collection is divided into four series with photographs taken or gathered by three missionary officials, W. Knighton Bloom, Laura Kinsloe, and Frank L. Moore, followed by a smaller series of photographs from unidentified sources, as well as drawings and other ephemera. The W. Knighton Bloom series contains approximately 773 photographs, dating from circa 1920 to 1932, which include snapshots of individuals who participated in the AMA’s Student Summer Service program, portraits, portrait postcards, as well as scenes from the Deep South, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, and Maine. The Laura Kinsloe series (circa 1910-1932) is the largest of the collection, numbering over 1,960 photographs of buildings, outdoor views, and indoor views organized by state, covering 31 states, especially the Dakotas, the Rocky Mountain states, and New Mexico. The Frank L. Moore series numbers 1,280 photographs from circa 1915-1923. These cover 25 states, particularly those in the South and West. Of special note to researchers have been the scenes of Ellis Island from the 1920s found within the Kinsloe and Moore series.
Not only do the photographs found within The American Missionary Photograph Collection document the efforts of the American Missionary Association and related societies, but they also serve as a wonderful resource for visual documentation of the early twentieth century American landscape, its cities and towns, and its population and communities. Many of the photographs can be viewed via Amistad’s digital collection entitled “American Missionary Association Photograph, 1887-1952” found in the Tulane University Digital Library.
Images from the American Missionary Photograph Collection. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.