With the rise of relatively inexpensive albumen printing in the 1860s, photographic visiting cards—universally known by the more tony-sounding cartes de visite, reflecting their French origins—became wildly popular.
Of a standard size of 2½ by 4 inches, they could be inserted in commercially available albums. School and college students, no doubt encouraged by photography studios, soon took advantage. In the decades before the rise of the photographic yearbook (Williston’s Log first appeared in 1902), seniors typically purchased photo albums and filled them with the cartes de visite of their classmates.
Recently a set of cartes de visite stamped “Graduating Class, Williston Seminary, 1862” came into the hands of Rex Solomon ‘84, who has generously donated them to the Williston Northampton Archives. It is a significant gift. Though incomplete, it is the earliest set of class photographs in the Archives’ collection.
The images are in especially good condition for their age and chemistry. Typically, chemicals, impurities, and moisture in the original paper, glue, and cardboard backing react with the environment and one another, causing fading, yellowing, mildew, and the deterioration of the paper itself. But after 150 years, these photographs remain remarkably sharp and clean.
Unfortunately the photographs are not captioned, so we may never know the individual students’ names. But there are also pictures of two adults, one of whom is immediately recognizable from other images as Principal Josiah Clark. This photograph of Clark was previously unknown.
Josiah Clark was Williston Seminary’s second Principal, who served from 1849 to 1863. Born in Leicester, Mass. in 1814, he graduated Yale and taught Greek and Latin at several schools before coming to Williston.
Joseph Sawyer, in his History of Williston Seminary (1917), writes that “Josiah Clark was not a maker of text books, he was himself a living text book. He did not content himself with giving to his pupils printed directions for procedure; he walked with them through the paths of knowledge. The boys learned to discriminate by seeing him discriminate; learned to admire by seeing him admire. He won the hearts of all excepting the unresponsive and incorrigible.”
Like his predecessor, Luther Wright, Clark became increasingly convinced that he could not meet Samuel Williston’s exacting, probably unrealistic standards, and stepped down after 14 years of distinguished service. He taught at the short-lived Round Hill School in Northampton, then in 1875 became Professor of Latin and Greek at newly founded Smith College. He died in 1878.
The other teacher in the set is not named, but since there were only seven men on the 1862 faculty, the odds of successfully identifying him are somewhat better. Most of the seven may immediately be rejected on account of their youth. Based on another photograph, albeit one taken much later in the subject’s life, we believe the photo to be of Eli A. Hubbard.1 Hubbard (1814-1899), a Williams College graduate, taught Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Williston, 1848-1854 and 1856-1874.
For most of those years the indefatigable Hubbard was the only scientist, and to an extent the only advocate for the sciences, on a faculty of classical scholars. During his Williston hiatus he was Principal of Fitchburg, Mass., High School. When he left Williston, aged 60, he served for eight years as Superintendent of Schools in Springfield, Mass., then returned to Fitchburg as Superintendent of Schools before finally retiring, aged 71, in 1885.
More information on cartes de visite may be found at The American Museum of Photography.
1Since this was first published we have located an identical portrait in William Andrew Emerson, Fireside Legends: Incidents, Anecdotes, Remeniscences, Etc., Connected with the Early History of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and Vicinity (2nd ed., [s.l. : s.n.], 1900), p. 155, thus confirming the identification of Eli A. Hubbard.
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