In a Portrait Studio, Worn with Pride: Prince Hall Freemasonry, Order of Eastern Star, and Real Photo Postcards in the Early Twentieth Century
In celebration of Black History Month and the long history of Prince Hall Freemasonry, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library wanted to highlight a striking new acquisition of a real photo postcard of a Black man standing between two women, with all three wearing Masonic regalia. The man wears a dark suit with a jewel of office pinned on his chest and a Past Master’s apron—identifiable by the common motif of a square and compass with the legs of the compass connected by an arc. The two women are in white dresses, white high heeled shoes, and white stockings. The younger woman, to the right of the man, wears two sashes, one on either shoulder. The one on the left shoulder is more visible, with a band of color running through it, a cockade on the top. The other sash is less visible, although the darker colored folds are clear to see by her waist near the hem of her dress. Any identifying features of the regalia are difficult to discern. Do these sashes mark her as a member of the Order of Eastern Star? The older woman, to the left of the man, was clearly a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, as evidenced by her five-color star apron. Though the picture is black and white, the red, blue, yellow, green, and white in the star are easy to visualize. With her proudly displayed apron, she also wears a necklace, earrings, and a white pin in her hair.
The postcard has no date, no location, nor any hint to the identities of the three people in the photograph. Was this a man and his wife and mother or daughter? Was this a family demonstrating their Masonic pride? The postcard was never sent and was likely kept as a keepsake or handed physically to its intended audience. Postcards were widely popular at the end of the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century in America. In 1913, almost one billion postcards were in sent in the United States, almost ten times the population at that time. Real photo postcards, like the one seen here, were produced on photographic paper with postcard backs. This postcard is undoubtedly a studio portrait—the upper right-hand corner gives a glimpse of the hanging backdrop—that was then printed on photographic postcard stock.
Using the Real Photo Postcard Guide: The People’s Photography, by Robert Bogdan and Todd Weseloh, we were able to estimate the age of the postcard using the distinct design on the back. Bogdan and Weseloh studied thousands of postcard backs to determine the earliest known date and years that the design of the back was in use by manufacturers. This postcard was manufactured by Eastman Kodak Company, which you can tell by the letters AZO surrounding the area for the stamp. The back of the postcard is divided between correspondence and address, which the United States Postal Service allowed after 1907, and the small black squares on the corner of the stamp box are all signifiers that this style of postcard was produced mainly in the 1930s by Eastman Kodak Company.
Though not much is known about the three people in the postcard, the family’s clear pride in their Masonic brotherhood and sisterhood shines through the small photograph and gives a glimpse into Prince Hall Freemasonry and Order of Eastern Star in the early twentieth century. Can you help us identify anyone in this real photo postcard? Do you know what the women’s sashes on the right represent? Please comment below if you have any insight!
Postcard portraying African American Freemason and two women with regalia, 1930-1939, Museum purchase, A2023/168/001.
Bogdan, Robert and Todd Weseloh. Real Photo Postcard Guide: The People’s Photography. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2006.