* boys first communion suit: United States individual experiences 19th century

U.S. First Communion Suits: Individual Boys--19th Century

Figure 1.--This cabinet card shows an unidentified girl in her First Communion dress with her little brother wearing a Fauntleriy blose and ringlet curls. The portrait is undated, but the mount style and little boy's outfit clothing suggests the 1890s. The early-90s is possible, but the 1890s seems most likely. The studio was Schaz in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

We have found very few 19th century American First Communion portrits. And the ones we believe we have foun are undated images which we have estimated to be from the late-19th century. This is understandable in the early-19th century. There were very few Catholics in the United States during the early-19th century. This only began to change until the Irish Potato Famine (1840s). And then after the Civil War large numbers of Catholics from southern and eastern Europe began emigrating to the United States. The numbers involved were reaching very substantial numbers by the 1880s. Thus there is no reason why we would not begin to see large numbers of First Communion portraits in the 1880s if the occassion was being widely celebrated and especially by the 1890s. Portrait fees by this time were quite reasonable within the range of working-class Americans. Perhaps a splurge, but not prohibitively expensive for many. Of course Catholic immigrants were just beginning to asismilate in the late-19th century and many were still at the bottom of the economic latter. So it is fair to say that they would be under-represented in the photographic record. This would, however, not explain why they were absent. We also do not notice many First Communion portraits in Europe during the 19th century. But our European archive is much more limited than our American archive so we can not yet make any definitive assessments for Europe. As for America it does seem that First Communion in the late-19th century was not yet the major celebration they wwere to become in the 20th century. As HBC expands we have begun to find more 19th century images. Most of the children involved, howver, are mot nearly as dressed up as their 20th century counterparts. An Italian provids some information explaning why First Communion celebrtions chnged after the turn-of-the 20th century. He tells us, "You have to account that the First Communion Masses started during the pontificate of Pius X (1903-1914). Earlier every child received his First Communion in different Sunday Masses, when the Parish priest stated that he was ready. So they can have a photo only when the family entrusted a photographer. When started First Communion Masses, the Parish could entrust the photographer for the group."


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Created: May 25, 2002
Last edited: 12:15 AM 10/20/2017