Friday, November 19, 2021
By Cathe Mizell-Nelson

“Cellphones have completely changed the way we communicate!” It’s a true enough cliché—who actually calls anyone anymore? If you just have a quick message to deliver, you text. If you want to let a loved one know you’re thinking of them, you text. And if you need to squirm your way out of an awkward situation—you’d better believe, you’d better text. 

But even before most households had telephones and cars, people did have a relatively cheap and easy way to keep in touch: the postcard. Then as now, postcards were often sent to friends far away—a “wish you were here” note from a scenic vacation spot. In the early 20th century, though, a postcard was also the simplest way to send the equivalent of a text message to a pal across town.  

Not all of the postcards in The Historic New Orleans Collection’s holdings were actually sent through the mail, but many of the ones with handwritten messages on the back were postmarked “New Orleans” and delivered to addresses within Orleans Parish. “City” in the last line meant the card was bound for a New Orleans address. 

One example is a card from April 1907 addressed to Octavie Jaubert, who received word that Elodie and Irma were planning to visit her in a few days at the Ursuline Convent.

The following is a transcription of the writing on the front and back of the postcard:  

Hello Dearest, Irma and I will try to go and see you Sunday.
[Written on the walkway outside the convent wall:] Do you remember [illegible] stroll here?
How do you like this postal? Juanita is having a lovely time in Baton Rouge. With much love from Elodie 

[To:] Miss Octavie Jaubert
Ursuline Convent

Scanning through other cards sent and received in New Orleans, it’s striking how similar the messages are to common types of text messages we send every day.  

Don’t believe me? Moments after I found this card preserved in a binder in the Williams Research Center— 

Handwriting on a brown postcard reads "I am on the train now for N.Y. D—"

I am on the train now for N.Y.
[To:] James [Gamshell?]
3211 Prytania St.

—I received this text message from my sister:  

Screenshot of a text message consisting of a selfie of a woman wearing a mask over her nose and mouth, in a seat on a plane. Under the photo is the message "On my flight to NOLA!!"

There’s truly nothing new under the sun. 

Below, I’ve listed 17 of my favorite cards from THNOC’s holdings, each a glimpse into the everyday lives of people long gone, reviving for a moment a community of people linked together through stamps, cards, and ink. 

1. Planning a get-together 

Postcard features a view of the Crystal Horticultural Hall located at Audubon Park in New Orleans, La.

Sometimes we reach out to a close friend for a fun outing . . .  

I’ll be down Wednesday afternoon to go shopping. L. B.
[To:] Miss Louise van Manan
815 Delachaise St.

More about this card.

2. Hammering out the details 

A circa 1912 postcard labeled "Dock Scene, Mississippi River, New Orleans, La." It depicts several steamships docked by a warehouse and a wharf crowded with bales of cotton and barrels.

. . . sometimes we just need to take care of business. 

Dear Ernestine—
Our class is to meet at 4 P.M. Wed., May 29, to decide what we are to do about the class gift. 
(Meet at N.O.N.S.)
Leona Smith

[To:] Miss E. Mouledoux
2529 Annunciation St
New Orleans, La. 

More about this card.

3. Checking in after the meetup 

Circa 1905 postcard from photograph and drawing; view of the club house of the City Park Race Track in Lakeview; crowds of people are in the grandstand; building has three cupolas and American flags; above are a man and woman in clothing of the day sitting on a crescent moon; the woman is looking down through a telescope.

In December 1907 Ed sent greetings 3.5 miles down Prytania Street to Ada and a promise to get together again the next year. 

Dear Ada
Have some of the turkey yet? pie is all gone. We’ll [come down?] next year.
839 State St. 

[To:] Mrs. Ada Burkhardt
1429 Prytania St.

More on this card.

4. The safety check-in 

Circa 1910  view of the Cabildo on Jackson Square in the Vieux Carré, showing buildings on St. Peter Street, partial view of St. Louis Cathedral, and lamppost of fence around Jackson Square.

L.S. wanted to make sure Irma and her maman got home all right. 

Dear Irma:—
I hope you and [maman?] reached home in safety. I went [direct?] home & left the Ks on Canal Street shopping—I am well but still cannot use my eye—Regards to your father—Love to you & your [maman?]—L.S.
1418 Josephine 

[To:] Miss Irma [Isnard?]
#1219 St. Bernard

More on this card.

5. Thank-you note 

Circa 1910 postcard reproduced from a photograph showing the Henry Clay Monument, located in Lafayette Square. The monument consists of a statue of Clay standing atop of a square grey pedestal slightly taller than the statue. The monument is placed on raised, circular bed of grass and flowers, and the scene is framed by leafy green trees on either side. On the left, a man stands near the flower beds, looking up at the statue, and on the right a man sits on a park bench, reading.

Like a text message, a postcard was a convenient way to quickly acknowledge a small gift.  

Dear Friend,
What a treat you did send me—the oranges arrived ok, & are perfectly delicious—Did your place produce them? Hope you are well & enjoying the pleasant change in the weather. Love, FMH

[To:] Miss Ida Leony
Venice La 

More on this card.

6. Sending a photo with the text 

A 1907 postcard features the front facade of a single-story, three-bay residence located in the French Quarter. A small white dog sits on the steps leading to the front door.

It’s a snap now, but in 1907 you had to find someone with a camera, wait for the film to be developed, and get the photo printed on special postcard paper stock. But if you wanted to show off your new house, it was worth the effort. 

Dear Cousin
Love to all
our Residence

[To:] Miss Louise Sabanaw
#430 Bermuda St

More on this card.

7. Apology for not replying promptly 

Circa 1909 postcard view of the entrance to Audubon Place, a wide residential street lined with large houses. The entrance is flanked by square, one-story guardhouses made of stone and topped with Mediterranean-style clay tile roofs. Each guardhouse has two ornamental round turrets topped with battlements. An elaborate wrought-iron arch that says "Audubon Place" stretches between the guardhouses.

You might suspect that Camille was making excuses: 

Dear Viola
Postal Rec’d and appreciated it very much. Would have answered sooner but really dear I had forgotten your address and only found it out just now. Hoping to hear from you and soon. I remain
Camille M.
(Excuse writing) 

[To:] Miss Viola Walker
#608 Hagan Ave.
New Orleans La
[At top edge, written in pencil:] if not delivered in 3 days return to 1027 Royal 

Note: Other cards addressed to Miss Viola show that she lived at 708 Hagan Avenue, not 608, so it’s possible Camille really did forget her address—or she was a skillful liar!  

More on this card.

8. Guilt trip for ghosting (really, Viola?) 

A 1904 postcard made from a photograph, labeled "Lake Scene, City Park, New Orleans, La." In the foreground is a rowboat with three passengers. Three small islands are in the center of the lake, all of them with trees, bushes, or palmettos. A second boat with a single passenger is in the background. The lake is rimmed with many more trees.

Don’t feel too bad for Viola, though. She didn’t always respond when others reached out.

Say kid don’t forget to answer.
[To:] Miss V. Walker
708 Hagan Ave.

The note is unsigned, but City Park scenes seem to be a favorite choice for amorous writers. (Yes, we’ll get to them soon!) This card, in its brevity, invites the modern reader’s imagination to run wild. 

More on this card.

9. A hidden message 

A circa 1910 postcard reproduced from a photograph showing St. Louis Cemetery Number 1. On the left side of the image, are wall vaults, and on the right side are more elaborate tombs, some surrounded by decorative cast iron fences.

A view of cemetery vaults sets a chillier mood:

Dear Friend 
I have been to see you several times, and could never find you home, why don’t you come to see me.
Yours Sincerely, 
Mrs. F. N. Longtire 

[To:] Mrs. L[?]
1920 Tulane Ave.

A hint that the relationship will be dead if Mrs. Longtire’s “friend” doesn’t return the visit soon, perhaps? 

More on this card.

10. Before there was Venmo . . . 

A circa 1919 black-and-white postcard features a group of about 50 children and several adults in front of an arched sign reading "Cleveland Park Playgrounds." A partially visible banner in the background reads, "Civic Improvement and Playground Association." The boys all wear dark knickers and white oxford shirts; most wear hats. The girls all wear white dresses. Because New Orleans playgrounds were segregated, all the people in the photo are white.

This cheery assembly of kids was perhaps supposed to take the edge off the message on the other side:  

Please make returns for basketball tickets
[Lu? Ldi?] Benedetto

[To:] Miss Ca[?] Dodge
4015 Daneel St.

In other words, pay up already. 

More on this card.

11. Health crisis 

A circa 1905 postcard featuring a view of City Park in New Orleans, La. Live oaks covered in Spanish moss, various trees, shrubs, and palms surround a curved path with wooden benches and a small pond with an arched, stone pedestrian bridge.

We sometimes have to impart urgent, unpleasant news. 

Mama has had a slight stroke of paralysis. Come down and see me when you can.
Yours in haste
[name illegible] 

[To:] Miss Cecile Carriere
1619 So. Rampart St.

The writer’s rush left us with an illegible signature, unfortunately. 

More on this card.

12. Lovers—or would-be lovers? 

A circa 1905 postcard features an exterior view of St. Roch's Chapel, St. Roch's Shrine, and above ground tombs in St. Roch's Cemetery in New Orleans, La.

Tiny writing on the front, no other message on the back—just the recipient’s address. A 1907 booty call?  

[Front, lower left, very small writing]
Will be down tonight about 7.45 P.M Bob
[To:] Miss Bertha Charpio
#1542 Painters St.

What do you suppose Bob and Bertha got up to after 7:45 that evening? 

More on this card.

13. A romantic rivalry 

A circa 1905 postcard reproduced from a photograph showing the small boat house and lake in City Park; rows of row boats are tied up to the shore. In the foreground is a small island with a single tree dripping with Spanish moss.

Another watery City Park view, another would-be Romeo. The unlucky Mr. Evans seems to have a rival when it comes to Alice’s heart. 

Doesn’t this look familiar? Looks good to me. M. E. Evans 

Looks like you would write a fellow once in a while. I don’t know when the picnic will be, but I will let you know, so you can come and stay with me while you are here. Say[,] he went home yesterday. Don’t cry too much over it, he’ll come back someday. M. E.
[To:] Miss Alice Crisler
Abita Springs, La. 

More on this card.

14. Alice’s other suitor 

A circa 1908 postcard reproduced from a photograph showing people sitting on the lawn between the Peristyle and the lagoon in City Park.

Ah, City Park once more. Well, whaddaya know? A note from the competition. 

Dear Alice:—Hope to see you up to the house one of these days I guess you will have to count blots as kisses
Ans. soon.
Regards to all,
I remain
as ever

[To:] Miss Alice Crisler
5330 Dauphine

More on this card.

15. The could-you-set-us-up request 

A circa 1905 postcard features an interior view of the Horticultural Hall at Audubon Park in New Orleans, La. The Horticultural Hall has curved gravel paths surrounded by ferns, shrubs and trees under arched trellis with climbing plants.

Breathless Bob entreats his sister for help courting Hilda: 

Invite Hilda to go to the French Opera with you Sunday matinee (Tell her to answer soon) Tell her what times the opera starts and I will go and get her at any time she wishes if she so desires. Your brother Bob. 

[To:] Miss Marcelle Landry
1137 N. Broad
New Orleans, Louisiana 

More on this card.


16. Passing the buck(s) 

A circa 1910 postcard showing the interior of E. Offner, a glass and crockery store once located at 908 Canal Street. A glass display case stands in the center, and down both sides of the long store are more display cases. The store is jam-packed with merchandise not only in the cases but on shelves above and below as well as items on top of the glass cases. Decorative light fixtures hang from the ceiling.

E. H., apparently short on cash, wisely decides to allow her more knowledgeable mother to buy shoes for her. 

My dear mama, I received your letter and last night and were [we’re?] very glad to receive the [money?] sorry to know you were so worried. I will wait until you send me some shoes because you know more about strong shoes than me.
You must not worry so much because you will make yourself sick.
Come to see us just as soon as you can. Love and kisses to you and Brother. 
E. H. 

[To:] Mrs. C. E. Hartz
153 S. Rampart St.
New Orleans, La. 

More on this card.

17. The “novel” 

A circa 1905 postcard with a vignetted image of the second Ursuline Convent (1824-1912) on Dauphine Street in the Ninth Ward. Shown is a recreation area on a terrace which was constructed on top of one of the school buildings at the convent. Taken from a balcony on one of the wings of the main building, the view looks past the fifteen foot board fence that surrounded the convent and into the Bywater neighborhood next door. A white railing surrounds the terrace where groups of young women, girls and several nuns can be seen.

Then there’s the writer who professes surprise or ignorance in response to someone else’s message, chucks in a red herring (or hat) to throw the recipient off the trail, and goes on at greater length than necessary. Mm-hmm . . . a likely story.  

Darling Irma, I just can’t get over that you saw me yesterday and I didn’t see you. I was indeed very sorry. You are always scolding me but I am going to give you one red hat for the foolish thing you are doing. With love and kisses and [G. I.?] sends you a kiss. Mercedes I. Leguin
[To:] Miss Irma Jaubert
#543 St. Ann St.

More on this card.

If you like reading other people’s mail, thousands more postcards await in THNOC’s Williams Research Center. The Reading Room is open by appointment, and our reference staff will be happy to help you find the materials that interest you.