Wanamaker Photographs and Documents
One of the Mathers Museum’s most significant collections is the Wanamaker Collection of American Indian Photographs. Together with the Wanamaker Collection Archive, these holding represent pictorial and documentary information about Native American interactions with European Americans in the first quarter of the 1900s. The photographs (Photograph Accession Numbers: 1962-08, 1975-44, and 1975-45) include original vintage prints, portfolio prints, enlargements, nitrate negatives, and glass negatives and positives. There are over 8,000 images of Native Americans and related subjects taken between 1908 and 1921. The lead photographer was Joseph Kossuth Dixon. The university acquired most of the images in the mid-1940s, receiving an additional 1,700 images in 1974 and 1975.
The archive (Archives Accession Number: 1962-08) consists of approximately 25,000 pages of original documentation associated with the Wanamaker Collection of American Indian Photographs. It provides context for the Wanamaker Collection images and also provides information on a wide range of topics: lobbying efforts aimed toward improving Native living conditions and government treatment, including the campaign for Indian citizenship. There is also information on period photographic practices, department stores as educational facilities, and more.
Understanding the historic context of the Wanamaker holdings is vital to their research and educational use. Joseph K. Dixon was hired by the Wanamaker Department Store in Philadelphia in the early 1900s, after he had worked with the Kodak Company. He was named the Director of Education at the store—a role similar to that of museum educator today. He gave public presentations at the store, and also spoke to 100s of school children about his work. The focus of most of his work was American Indians, reflecting his own interests and those of John Wanamaker, store founder, and his son Rodman Wanamaker. Dixon and his small team traveled west, staying for the most part at Crow Agency, Montana, in 1908 and again in 1909.
At first his perspective was highly romantic: he sought to capture images of “the vanishing race,” staging photos with titles such as “Song of the Arrows” (1962-08-2006) and “On the Sky Line” (1962-08-2667). However, Dixon could not help seeing and hearing about the conditions under which his subjects were living – confined to reservations, deprived of means of subsistence, neglect or worse by the federal government charged with their care. He photographed these conditions as well, as in “Slum tepee, Cheyennes [sic], Crow Agency” (1962-08-0987). From that point on, it is clear from the documents and from the photographs themselves that Dixon had concluded that American Indians were not vanishing though treated badly by the US government.
In 1913, Joseph Dixon helped organize—on behalf of Rodman Wanamaker—an “Expedition of Citizenship,” a months-long journey through Oklahoma, the southwest, California, the northwest, the upper plains, and the northern states in the east, visiting 73 locations. The purpose of this trip was to ask Native leaders to sign a “Declaration of Allegiance” to the United States, in order to demonstrate to the US Congress the Native peoples’ desire (or willingness) to become US citizens. At these locations Dixon took photos of his subjects both in traditional attire (“Judge and Mrs. Wolf Plume and baby, ‘Little Handsome Woman,’” 1962-08-3513) and contemporary clothing (“Mosh-Shah—James Waters, full face, bust," 1962-08-3146). A map of the expedition’s route is available here [1913_map.PDF]
Dixon’s next major project was documenting the stories and images of Native Americans who had served in the Great War (World War I). He visited military installations and hospitals on the east coast before the veterans were demobilized, taking down their stories as well as photographing them. The images include celebrated individuals (“Choctaw Telephone Squad”, 1962-08-6453) and those injured in their service to the country (“Sergeant Lee Shananquet,” 1962-08-6355). Dixon distributed (again on behalf of Rodman Wanamaker) hundreds of questionnaires to Native veterans; the archives includes 2,700 of these documents.
Finally, in 1921 Dixon traveled to France and Belgium to record the devastation that the war had brought to towns (1962-08-6776) and countryside (1962-08-7443).