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American Women: Resources from the Prints & Photographs Collections

Edward Curtis Collection

Edward S. Curtis, photographer. Hopi water girls.1906. Edward S. Curtis Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Photographer Edward S. Curtis embarked at the turn of the century on an effort to document all of the Native American peoples who “still retained to a considerable degree their primitive customs and traditions.” In the course of a thirty-year project, Curtis documented more than eighty tribes. Numerous commentators have pointed out how Curtis manipulated his subjects and their surroundings to produce a romanticized vision of a Native American past, often eliminating any acknowledgment of the ways in which modern Euro-American culture had already reshaped Native American life and collapsing differences among tribal communities.

Scope of the Collection

The Edward Curtis Collection (2,400 photographic prints, 1899-1929) consists primarily of photographic prints that Curtis deposited for copyright in the course of preparing his twenty-volume work The North American Indian, including many views not published in the book. The prints offer plentiful, often detailed portrayals of Native American women and their activities, inviting exploration not only of the subject matter of the photographs but of how Curtis chose to represent Indigenous women in light of his own objectives and assumptions.

Searching the Collection

The collection has been organized into twenty-two groups (LOTs) by tribal group.

Most images that have been requested for reproduction can be searched and viewed in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. The collection has its own listing in the online catalog.

A list of tribes represented in the collection is available. The list includes links to online records describing the group of photographs (LOT) for that tribe; the online record, in turn, provides a link to any items from that LOT that are cataloged online.

Here is how onsite researchers can look for images for which no online record exists.

  • Determine which LOTs have images of interest: search for Edward Curtis or particular subjects in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, Groups of Images category.
  • A card file also exists, arranged by Curtis's original numbering scheme, with unnumbered images listed by title. The cards cite the LOT number for the image, title, copyright date, tribal group, geographical location, reproduction number, and description.
  • Submit a call slip to have a desired LOT retrieved.

Reprint volumes of The North American Indian (New York, Johnston Reprint Corp., 1970; E77.C9), kept in the division's reference book collection, provide an additional avenue of access to the images. The original edition of the publication, with its photogravure illustrations, is housed in the Rare Book & Special Collections Division.;

Further Information

Sample Images