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American Women: Resources from the Prints & Photographs Collections

Stereographs/Card Photos

Alfred S. Campbell, photographer. Bathers at photo tent. Copyrighted 1897. Stereograph Cards. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.
Underwood & Underwood, publisher. The New Woman. Copyrighted 1901. Stereograph Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Stereographs and card photographs, which proliferated from the 1860s through the 1910s, represent a drive toward visual novelty and the growth of the format as an item to be collected and exchanged with others.


Stereographs consist of a pair of images, usually photographs, which are placed side by side. When looked at through a special viewer, they appear to be a single three-dimensional image. These were used as parlor entertainment and as educational tools starting in the 1850s.

The division's collection of Stereographs (52,000 items in the organized collections, primarily 1870s-1940s) was acquired largely by copyright deposit. Publishers frequently issued stereographs in sets or series, some of which presaged the development of the early motion picture in telling stories with simple plots and few words. The images also document rural and urban scenes and present humorous and sentimental vignettes.

Given their content and varied uses in the home and classroom, the stereographs invite investigation of recreational habits, educational practices, and popular commentary on manners and customs in the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century. A number of stereographs, for instance, comment humorously on courtship, marriage, and domestic life. Images that record industrial scenes, agricultural activities, and recreational life provide a view of women's presence (or absence) in these settings.

Stereographs were also used for portraiture. The division's collections include stereographic portraits of Clara Barton at work at her desk; pensive views of poet and journalist Ella Wheeler Wilcox; what appear to be memorial portraits of temperance leader Frances E. Willard, published two years after her death; and a portrait of “Adeline, Princess of Seattle,” a member of the Duwamish tribe, published in 1896, reputedly her hundredth year (all in STEREO BIOG FILE).

Searching the Stereographs Collection

Stereographs can be searched in the online catalog, where they have their own listing,

R.M. Linn & Bro., photographer. Unidentified woman in mourning dress at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. Carte-de-visite. Ca. 1865. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

To look for images that are not yet online, on-site researchers can

  • search the reading room files established for stereographs:
    • Subjects
    • U.S. Geographical
    • Foreign Geographical
    • Biographical
    • Presidential
  • search the online catalog category for Groups of Images for stereographs. Many stereographs grouped in this way are directly accessible in the reading room; others can be requested by submitting a call slip.

Card Photographs

Other types of card-mounted photographs proliferated as keepsakes beginning in the 1850s. Cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards were two small-format card photographs used to reproduce individual and family studio photographs, as well as portraits of celebrities. The larger “imperial” cards were more often used to present theatrical portraits of actresses in costume.

Searching for Card Photographs

The division does not have a card photograph collection as such, but such images are found throughout the holdings, particularly in personal and family collections (see Personal Papers section).

Searching online using the term card photographs and by the specialized formats (e.g., Imperial card photographs, Cartes de visite) will retrieve an array of examples, as well as groups of images containing the format that on-site researchers can request using a paper call slip. Some groups require advance arrangement for viewing because special handling is required.

Sample Images