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American Women: Resources from the Prints & Photographs Collections

National Photo Company Collection

Suffragettes. 1920 June 20. National Photo Company Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

During the administration of Presidents Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, the National Photo Company supplied photographs of current news events in Washington, D.C., as a daily service to its subscribers. It also prepared sets of pictures on popular subjects and undertook advertising work and special photographic assignments for organizations, businesses, and government agencies in the Washington, D.C., area.

The company's proprietor, Herbert E. French, encouraged his photographers to go after exclusives—subjects not covered by other news photographers. He also sometimes purchased photographs from other sources to supplement the coverage provided by his photographers.

Scope of the Collection

The National Photo Company Collection (80,000 photographic prints and negatives, 1850-1945, bulk 1909-32) documents many aspects of Washington, D.C., life and, to a limited extent, events elsewhere in the United States and the world. It is one of the Prints & Photographs Division's best sources for coverage of the 1920s and pointedly conveys the impact of technology in the early part of the twentieth century, particularly the spread of automobiles and radio. Coverage that features women includes:

  • portraits of members of socially and politically prominent families
  • the women's suffrage campaign
  • the social scene
  • sports and recreational activities
  • scenes of business, industries, occupations, and services, including government work

Searching the Collection

All of the photographic negatives have been digitized and can be searched in the online catalog. The searchable captions are based on information on the negative or negative sleeve, which is often quite brief. Additional caption information may be available by locating a corresponding photographic print.

The photographic prints in the collection consist of:

  • photos mounted in albums, each with a chronological or subject focus, to which LOT numbers have been assigned; most of the photos are accompanied by original captions
  • loose photos that have been grouped into LOTs by subject matter

Photographic prints that researchers or staff have selected for reproduction can be searched in in the online catalog, where the collection has its own listing.

To look for images for which no online records exist, on-site researchers can:

  • consult the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog category for Groups of Images (the photographic prints have been grouped by subject/chronological period into LOTs)
  • consult the LOT record to determine whether an associated, unpublished finding aid is available; such finding aids give greater detail about the subject matter represented in the group
  • submit a call slip to have desired LOTs retrieved

Sample Images