The first postcard caught her eye three years ago, at Orphan Annie’s in Auburn. A little cartoon girl doing dishes under the caption: “Wot a life! Men must work and women must wipe!”

In 1938, a woman named Margaret sent it to Miss Patsy Ryan in Baltimore with the jot on the back:
“This is the life old kid. So think before you leap.”

Michelle Morgan bought the slightly cryptic card for $1, then started down a postcard path.

“I just started picking them up here and there and becoming more fascinated with the imagery on them,” said Morgan, 30, a 1997 Oak Hill High grad.

She ultimately turned them into homework, pursuing her master’s in American and New England studies at the University of Southern Maine. She decided to write about the depiction of women on postcards from 100 years ago, what it said about the times, the anxieties.

“With a thesis topic in hand and a reason to keep buying them for ‘research,’ I got a little insane about it,” Morgan said.

She found one with a cartoon bulldog in a dress beside the caption, “Nobody loves a fat girl.” It was mailed to Pine Island, Minn., to a Mrs. C.D. Reifsnider in 1910.

The message on back? “Write soon.”

Another from 1908 shows a woman with a butterfly net sneaking up behind a man reading a paper while her friend tells her, “Be careful, Clara, that’s a fine specimen!”

She ended up titling her paper: “Pictures of the most utterly suggestive sort: Images of females and deviants on progressive era postcards.”

“Once I started I couldn’t stop. My thesis is 300 pages,” Morgan said. A chapter of it will appear in an anthology next year.

Her collection is up to about 300 new and old cards. It’s an easy collection to keep, she said. Most are inexpensive, and they don’t take up much room.

“I like the ones people actually respond to,” she said. They added notes near the picture, like one card of an Old Maid with “Pearl” handwritten underneath. “Postcards were really a new medium at the time — today we would think of them as text messages.”

Morgan lived in Portland while pursuing her degree and graduated in May. Over the weekend she moved to Connecticut, where she’ll begin a doctorate program at Yale for American Studies.

The postcards were one of the last things packed into the car. She didn’t want to risk their getting lost.

Know of a collection that intrigued you? We’re always looking for ideas. Please contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at 689-2844 or [email protected]

Michelle Morgan, 30, talks about the postcards dating from around 1900 she started collecting after finding them at Orphan Annie’s in Auburn. Now she has hundreds and even wrote a 300-page master’s thesis at the University of Southern Maine on the visual representation of women in that era.

Some of the early 1900’s postcards featured in Michelle Morgan’s collection are surprisingly suggestive for the time.

Michelle Morgan was intrigued by these two postcards so much that she started collecting them. The message on the back of the left one reads, “This is the life old kid. So think before you leap.”

A postcard in Michelle Morgan’s collection is postmarked from Lewiston on Jan. 1, 1912, to Rumford and is entirely in French.

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