Caught Our Eyes: Solving a Stork Mystery

Perhaps it’s the impending arrival of April 1, but my first thought upon looking at this photo, placed on our “Caught Our Eyes” sharing wall by reference librarian Jon Eaker, was that it was an April Fool’s joke.

Photo captioned Congressional Speaking Class. Photo by Harris & Ewing, ca. 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.26178

[Photo captioned “Congressional Speaking Class”]. Photo by Harris & Ewing, ca. 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.26178

As is sometimes the case with photos in our Harris & Ewing collection, where captions range from very fulsome to non-existent, the photo is somewhat of a mystery. The title that came with caption data received with the collection, “Congressional Speaking Class,” seems to have very little to do with this leggy stork.

There are other photos with a similar title in the collection that seem to show just what the title suggests. For example:

Congressional Speaking Class. Photo by Harris & Ewing, ca. 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.26174

Congressional Speaking Class. Photo by Harris & Ewing, ca. 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.26174

One title provides more detail, indicating that it refers to a class on public speaking that was offered to spouses of members of Congress.

Congressmen's wives learn to speak in class. The Congressional Public Speaking class, composed of wives of congressmen, is attempting to teach the ladies to search out material and present it effectively under the direction of Mrs. Hugh Butler, public speaking teacher. They met today at the Agriculture Department's 'Chamber of Horrors' where Mrs. Ralph O. Brewster, wife of the member from Maine, gave her colleagues a sample of her learning while Mrs. Butler looks on from the right of the picture, 2-10- 39. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1939 Feb. 10. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.26027

Congressmen’s wives learn to speak in class. The Congressional Public Speaking class, composed of wives of congressmen, is attempting to teach the ladies to search out material and present it effectively under the direction of Mrs. Hugh Butler, public speaking teacher. They met today at the Agriculture Department’s ‘Chamber of Horrors’ where Mrs. Ralph O. Brewster, wife of the member from Maine, gave her colleagues a sample of her learning while Mrs. Butler looks on from the right of the picture, 2-10- 39. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1939 Feb. 10. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.26027

Jon’s working hypothesis was that the class included skits, and the stork’s delivery was a particularly elaborate one. But after browsing through several pages worth of photos using the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog “neighboring items” search, he hit on the more likely answer.

First he spotted this captioned photo, which clearly includes one of the people in the stork picture:

Ruby Black, Butler Violet Sweethaven, Maid. Photo by Harris & Ewing, ca. 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.26230

Ruby Black, Butler Violet Sweethaven, Maid. Photo by Harris & Ewing, ca. 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.26230

There are additional uncaptioned photos with the same background, including this one:

[No caption]. Photo by Harris & Ewing, ca. 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.26232

[No caption]. Photo by Harris & Ewing, ca. 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.26232

This one also seems to be related, and the original caption gives a clue as to the participants’ professional roles:

Dorothy L. Lewis. Special Writer--as Queen, Gerry Dick, N.E.A.--as King, Betty Hines, Wash. Times Herald--Equerry. Photo by Harris & Ewing, ca. 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.26197

Dorothy L. Lewis. Special Writer–as Queen, Gerry Dick, N.E.A.–as King, Betty Hines, Wash. Times Herald–Equerry. Photo by Harris & Ewing, ca. 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.26197

With those clues, combined with Jon’s awareness that Ruby Black, mentioned in one of the captions, was a well-known Washington journalist, Jon turned to historical newspapers in one of the Library of Congress’s on-site subscription databases. With some dedicated searching, he spotted a very similar photo in a New York Herald Tribune issue for March 4, 1939. The photo does show a skit, but it wasn’t a sudden departure from presentations at the Congressional speaking class. Instead, it was part of the annual Women’s National Press Club “Stunt Party.” The skit was satirizing an anticipated visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the White House. We can now provide helpful titles to several more images.

In pursuing the mystery of the stork, the original caption may have initially played a joke on us, but we sure had fun learning about two different realms of active women in 1939!

The Caught Our Eyes sharing wall, where Prints & Photographs Division staff share "finds" in the collection. Look for some of these in future posts! Photo by P&P staff, 2018 Feb. 28.

The Caught Our Eyes sharing wall, where Prints & Photographs Division staff share “finds” in the collection. Look for some of these in future posts! Photo by P&P staff, 2018 Feb. 28.

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2 Comments

  1. Athena
    March 29, 2019 at 10:20 pm

    The Eaker Eye, it don’t lie.

  2. Olivia Morrissette
    March 31, 2019 at 7:45 am

    Well, that was fun to read, and the photos were excellent! It was also interesting and illuminating to see what congressmen’s wives were doing back in 1939. Thank you!

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