About This Collection
Terence Vincent Powderly (1849-1924), who led the Knights of Labor at the peak of its power as Grand Master Workman (1879-1893), and who later held important posts with the Bureau of Immigration (1897-1921), was also an avid and talented amateur photographer. Several thousands of his photographic images produced in the first two decades of the twentieth century (ca. 1902-1921) have survived in the form of glass and nitrate-base negatives (the nitrate has since been converted to safety film), and as glass lantern slides. In addition to his own work, Powderly collected prints produced by other photographers (1865-1930). The current digital collection contains nearly 900 images Powderly himself took of sites and scenes in Washington, DC, plus another 300 images selected from those he had collected.
Well-traveled in America and Europe, Powderly photographed a great variety of subjects bearing on social, economic, and political life at the turn of the century. Both the great and the humble drew his camera interest. On his lengthy journeys to many cities in the North and South, he captured the passing pedestrian scene with colorful images of street urchins, construction laborers, dockworkers, street vendors and tradesmen. He accumulated a virtual catalog of monuments and buildings in Washington, D.C and in other cities, many of which are no longer standing.
Of especial interest is Powderly's camera work on his trips through the countries of Europe to study the roots of the immigrant problem facing the United States. His photos trace the path of the immigrants from the docks of such cities as Trieste to their arrival at Ellis Island and even in some instances to their eventual place of settlement in America.