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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Labor Day 2023: Historic Photographs of People Working, from the Joseph J. Pennell Collection

On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the bill that designated the first Monday of September as a day to celebrate the workers of America known as Labor Day. Below are photographs selected from the Joseph J. Pennell Collection that feature workers in various occupations.

From the 1890s to the 1920s, Joseph J. Pennell photographed life in Junction City, Kansas, and the nearby Army base, Fort Riley. It is my belief that the strength of the collection is that Pennell wasn’t content to just stay in his studio, taking portrait photography. He went out into the community to photograph its people, businesses, activities, groups, and families. And Pennell was inclusive of community members from diverse groups, revealing a more complete representation of Junction City history. Because of his work, we are provided with a comprehensive view of life in a moderately-sized Midwestern army-post town on the Great Plains at the turn of the century.

Please enjoy this sample from the collection and visit Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s website to see more.

Black-and-white photograph of men and women
A group of people at work in Dixon’s Laundry, 1899. Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 468.5, Box 13. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Black-and-white photograph of men standing with large machinery in an open-air underground area lined with bricks.
Workers at a water works site, 1911. Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 2339, Box 50. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Black-and-white photograph of a crowded shop. Six boys and young men work on shoes: four stand and two sit on a bench.
Men and boys working in Counts Shoe Shop, 1915. Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 2807, Box 60. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Black-and-white photograph of men, horses, and mules standing across a dirt road with trees on the left and fields on the right.
A group of men working on a road with horse and mule teams as part of the Good Roads Movement, circa 1911. Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 2464.16, Box 52. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Black-and-white photograph of seven men standing in a row in front of a building. Five are dressed in chef's whites, and three are wearing hats.
Bakers in front of Frey’s Bakery, 1900. Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 507, Box 14. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Black-and-white photograph of two young women sitting at a large switchboard.
Miss Crook and Miss Mickey at a telephone switchboard, 1900. Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 632, Box 17. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Blac-and-white photograph of two African American men in hats, long-sleeve shirts, and overalls. One is standing and one is sitting; they are in a studio in front of a backdrop.
A portrait of Alfred Londin and a friend in work clothes, 1916. Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 2867, Box 62. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

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