Always Wear Clean Underwear, Love Mom: Vintage Mother's Day Photographs

May 4, 2016 | Bill V.

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For Mother's Day this year I want to share some iconic images from the Library's collection and my own personal vintage photo collection. It may be a cliche, but a picture is worth a thousand words. 

This is my mom, Elpida. I wish it was me in the photobooth with her but it's actually my older brother. I love how beautiful, glamorous and happy my mom looks here. She has a lovely pure singing voice, is as smart as a whip, could do anything from paint a house, to sew and bake and was very handy with our family's finances. She speaks and reads several languages. And she learned to drive when it wasn't too common for Macedonian women to do so. I love my mom.

Bill's Mom and brother vintage photo booth circa 1950s


The photo below is from the Library's digital archive and shows Mrs. Owen Staples holding her daughter Isabella circa 1908. They're at Thomas Heys' house (Hogarth Avenue at the north west corner of Bowden Street) in Riverdale near the Danforth. This picture says love to me through the laughter and joy in the mother's expression and gesture and her desire to share the beauty of the cherry blossoms with the child. It's also aesthetically pleasing with the spray of white blossoms echoing her white dress. 

As an aside if you're interested in cherry blossoms in Toronto you will want to see the High Park cherry blossom report which says the season may be a flop in 2016 due to cool weather. BlogTO has done a great blog post on other cherry blossom sites in Toronto aside from High Park.  And if you want to see what you're missing my friend Iana did a fine blog post for the Library way back in 2012 which has some lovely photos and images from High Park.

Mrs. Owen Staples holding her daughter Isabella circa 1908 near cherry blossoms.


This is a vintage cabinet card I just bought in upstate New York for $1.00 at an antique store. I've seen a lot of cabinet card portraits but rarely one this striking - the unusual pose of the mom in profile and the young boy looking out. The photographer is J.H. Kent, 20 State Street, Rochester, N.Y. and it's circa 1880-1890s. 

Vintage cabinet card circa 1880s boy and Mom touch heads (2)


This last photo has the least information. It's the front of a postcard -- what's known as a real photo postcard or RPPC. It was printed on Velox paper and can be dated to circa 1901-1914 due to the four squares in the Velox stamp mark. This photo was taken out of doors -- you see a bicycle and the front of a house in the background. This is not an idealized version of motherhood like the cabinet card above. This woman looks older and tired and the child looks much more real and slightly indifferent to his mom.  


And lastly there is this vintage postcard from the Toronto Reference Library postcard collection. Although there are thousands of different postcards there is only one for Mother's Day. This may represent the relatively newness of this holiday as it more formally came about in 1908. The story and tragedy of Anna Jarvis' holiday and the corruption and commercialization of it is a bit heartbreaking. This Mother's Day type postcard shows foil paper, with forget-me-not flowers. It was published by Stanley E. Mullen and Co. of Melbourne Australia circa 1910 and was printed in Germany (it hasn't been posted).

To My Mother vintage postcard circa 1910

If you're interested in reading about Mother's Day enjoy these Book Buzz blog posts: