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The Lady in The Postcard

by Celio H. Barreto (Originally written in 2016)

· Photohistory,Russo-Japanese War,Canadian connections,Postcards,Collections

This type of postcard reflects the international character of Japanese ports towards the close of the Meiji Period. Its aesthetics are a break from the 19th Century hand-tinted Yokohama Shashin style of souvenir photographs intended for the globetrotter tourist and export markets of the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. On September 1, 1900, the Japanese government legalized the private production of photo postcards, opening up an untapped market for the greater consumption of inexpensive images. Since the mid-1800s, postcards had proven popular in Japan, but were restricted to official reproductions of paintings or wood block prints.

Photographs of Japanese victories during the Russo-Japanese war between 1904 and 1905, fueled an unprecedented demand for photo postcards. Postcard consumption reached its peak during the war, with nearly 400,000 cards made each year At this time, photo postcards were either silver-gelatin or collotypes, and were often hand-tinted, as in this example. In the latter years of the Meiji and early Taisho periods, The Ueda Photographic Prints & Co. (上田写真版合資会社) produced several editions of this popular postcard between 1908 and 1917. Examples of this postcard reside in important public and private collections around the world.

A scrapbook recently found in ROM storage points to an important Canadian connection. This postcard is based on a private photograph made of a Canadian volunteer nurse working for the Japanese Red Cross during the Russo-Japanese War.

The lady in the postcard lived in Yokohama between 1904 to 1908. She wrote about her observations and experiences in Japan and China, publishing a number of articles in the Canadian press and a book on her experiences traveling in 1905 Shanghai and Soo Chow. After leaving Asia she traveled around Europe, North Africa, Central Asia, India and North America for years. She brought her knowledge back to Canada in 1914, and applied it to innovative education work she developed.

She became involved with The Royal Ontario Museum, working as a volunteer docent from 1915-1918. She was hired in February 1919 as the first official ROM Guide, (and the first female Museum Educator in Canada) despite great resistance from the male academic establishment. She worked at The ROM until 1923, laying the foundations of what would become The ROM’s Education Department. Her name was Margaret MacLean, of Cornwall, Ontario.

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