Our Iowa Heritage: The “Miss Tillie” Postcard Collection.

(P-0270) A rare set of “Turn of the Century” penny postcards – all going to Miss Tillie Hansen of St. Louis, Missouri.

On most occasions, when you collect memorabilia, you’ll find a piece here and a piece there. But in October of 2021, as I was searching on Ebay, I found a guy in Las Vegas who had listed some neat penny postcards with Iowa City themes – some of which I’d never seen before. But now comes the kicker. As I dug a bit deeper into his listings, I noticed that most of the cards I was interested in were not only postmarked in Iowa City, but they were also addressed to the same person in St. Louis!

So, allow me to introduce you to the recipient of those picture postcards:

Sadly, I can’t find anything more about Miss Tillie, other than her St. Louis address is now in University Park (a northwest neighborhood of St. Louis), very near Forest Park (one of my favorite spots in St. Louis). And, from looking at the present-day on-line picture, the original house that Miss Tillie lived in (1909-1913) must have been torn down and replaced with a small crackerbox home immediately following WWII.

On other posts on our website, I’ve given you an overview of the great importance of penny postcards at the turning of the 20th century (1890-1920). For most Americans of that day, a penny postcard was the cheapest and fastest way for a person to shoot off a quick note to someone. To use today’s language – a penny postcard in 1910 was the equivalent to an email or a text for us today.

So, here on this page, allow me to show you a few of these penny postcards that several different family members of Miss Tillie zipped off to her between 1909-1913. I’ll not only share some of the beautiful cards, but also a few of the messages as well…

(P-0270-a) from June 14, 1909 features the Iowa City Country Club located on the Iowa River north of town. This the first postcard in our “Miss Tillie” collection. Click here to view other postcards of the Country Club.

(Left) Cousin Earl tells Tillie about “a peach of a ball game yesterday – Iowa City beat Oxford in a 5 inning game with a score of 22 to 2.” (Right) Cousin Fred “had my vacation this week and (a) week from Sunday we are going to have another picnic but I have to work…”

(P-0270-b) from July 23, 1909 – the SUI campus. Click here to read more about the SUI red brick campus.
(P-0270-c) from July 27, 1909 features a rare view of Iowa Avenue looking east – on the left is University Hospital. Click here to read more about SUI hospitals.

(Left) From “your friend Elizabeth” posting a last-minute reminder to Tillie (at the top) that “Alice is going to write.” (Right) “Your friend, Alice Teeter” does, indeed, write to Tillie.

(P-0270-d) from August 12, 1909 – the Homeopathic Hospital. Click here to read more about the homeopathic medical school at SUI.
(P-0270-e) from August 18, 1909 features a very rare view of Old Capitol as seen from Iowa Avenue looking west. On the left is the Hall of Liberal Arts (Schaeffer Hall) and on the right is the Hall of Natural Science (MacBride Hall). Click here to read more about the early days of The Pentacrest.
(P-0270-f) from September 13, 1909 features the Armory that was located just west of Old Capitol, next to Iowa Field. Click here to read more about those athletic facilities.

(Left) Cousin Fred just came back from church and is “feeling fine,” adding that “it is kind of nice to say that, I’ll tell you.” (Right) Rose (Fred’s wife) explains that “Fred has been so sick for the past few (weeks) so we haven’t had a chance to go any where.”

(P-0270-g) from September 24, 1909 features several of the City Park shelters. City Park was a great get-away for Iowa Citians at the turn of the century. Click here for more.

(Left) Fred and Rose finally get a night out, going to the Nickelodeon where “Rose played the piano & another girl sang.” (Right) We have a break here of almost a year (Nov 1909 to Oct 1910) before Fred writes “I’ve been looking for a card from you for a long time or is it my turn to write – I don’t know.”

(P-0270-i) from October 17, 1910 – City Park. Click here for more.

(P-0270-k) from June 16, 1913 features the St. James Hotel – an important meeting place for anything related to SUI. Sadly, the building, located directly east of the Pentacrest, burned on Good Friday, April 21, 1916. Read more here.

(P-0270-j) from April 29, 1911 postmarked in Muscatine.
(P-0270-j)

This postcard is the most intriguing in our “Miss Tillie” collection. Cousin Earl gives Tillie an alarming report…

I am at war now – have been down here (Muscatine) for 11 days on riot duty – don’t no (sic) when we will get back (to) feeling all O.K. – We are on duty 6 pm and off 12 – so you see we don’t get much loafing or sleep – with love to all as ever – Earl

(P-0270-j)
At the turn of the century, Muscatine was known as the Pearl Button Capital of the World, producing 1.5 billion pearl buttons per year, which accounted for approximately 37 percent of the world’s buttons. But in April 1911, tension between union workers and manufacturers surfaced and a full-fledged strike arose that brought violence to the streets of Muscatine.

(M-0126) Here’s nine beautiful Muscatine pearl buttons from the Boller family – dating back to the early 20th century.

The Iowa State Militia

So, cousin Earl was obviously part of the Iowa State Militia (now known as the National Guard), and, as his postcard states, he was stationed in Muscatine for a good portion of April, 1911, keeping order on behalf of the state of Iowa. Thank you, Cousin Earl, for your service!

(P-0270)

Well, that just about covers it. Or, as they might say in Muscatine, that “buttons up” our project. We hope you’ve enjoyed these postcards as much as we assume Miss Tillie enjoyed receiving them back in the day!


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

1911 Strike, National Pearl Button Museum, muscatinehistory.org

Bomb throwers, strikebreakers and button makers, Tim Phillips, Iowa History Journal

National Pearl Button Museum – Muscatine website

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