University of Texas, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

John E. Palmer:

An Inventory of His Collection in the Photography Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Palmer, John E., 1891-1964
Title: John E. Palmer Collection
Dates: ca. 1890s-1960s (bulk 1940s-1960s)
Abstract: The collection is comprised primarily of studio portraits and informal photographs taken by Palmer which document the everyday life and social activities of the African-American community in Galveston, Texas, from the 1890s through the 1960s.
Extent: 25 boxes (ca. 2,600 items; 10.5 linear feet)
Language: English
Repository: The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center

Biographical Sketch

John Ellis Palmer was born in 1891 in Maney, Louisiana. Around 1916, Palmer moved to Galveston, Texas, where he lived for 48 years. Here he established the Palmer Studio where many of the images in this collection were taken or produced.

Little biographical information on Palmer is available, but it is known that he was a veteran of World War I, a Mason, and an Elk. Palmer served as President of the Texas State Lodge of Elks for at least the year 1944, judging from information contained in his correspondence, and he was a member of the St. Lawrence Lodge 258. He also received the 33rd degree in the Holy Royal Arch Masons. Palmer married, and his wife's name was Cleo. Palmer died March 7, 1964.

Scope and Contents

The John E. Palmer Collection is comprised primarily of studio portraits and informal photographs taken by Palmer which document the everyday life and social activities of the African-American community in Galveston, Texas, from the 1890s through the 1960s (bulk 1940s-1960s). The collection has been arranged into the following series: I. Palmer Studio, 1940s-1960s; II. Other Studios/Photographers, 1890s-1960s; III. Special Format Materials, 1900s-1960s.

Nearly one third of the collection consists of studio portraits. African-Americans make up the majority of the sitters depicted, but a few Hispanic and Caucasian individuals are also represented. Most of the individuals are not identified, but names written on the photographs have been compiled in the finding aid. Informal portraits document many activities such as weddings and funerals, as well as functions of fraternal organizations, churches, military groups, schools, athletic teams, and bands. Another one third of the images consists of candid shots of people in bars and restaurants. A smaller group of photographs documents occurrences such as automobile accidents, storm damage, and parades, presumably in and around Galveston.

The majority of the photographs are black and white gelatin silver prints, ranging in size from 1 x 1-1/8 to 11 x 14 inches, or 35.6 x 28 centimeters or smaller. Some color and hand-colored photographs are present, as are safety film and nitrate negatives. Some materials are matted or mounted.

A smaller group of early photographs, presumably not taken by Palmer, date from the 1890s through the 1930s and depict women, men, children, and families. Other photographers represented in this collection include The Teal in Houston, and Kibbes’ Studio, Wallace Studios, and Witwer Studios, all of Galveston.

Materials other than photographs in the collection include a small selection of correspondence to and from Palmer, some business and financial records, a 1955 Central High School Bearcat yearbook, clippings, and other ephemera.



Open for research

Index Terms

African Americans--Texas--Galveston--Social life and customs--1890-1970.
Group portraits--1890-1970.
Portrait photography--1890-1970.
Galveston (Tex.).
Document Types
Gelatin silver prints--1890-1970.

Administrative Information


Gift, 1988

Processed by:

Rebecca J. Altermatt, 1997


The majority of this biographical information was obtained from Palmer's obituary as printed in the Sunday, March 8, 1964, edition of The Galveston News.

John E. Palmer Collection--Series Descriptions

Series I. Palmer Studio, 1940-1960s (17 boxes)

Photographs in this series are presumed to have been taken by Palmer in the course of his studio business, although very few of the images actually bear his studio's imprint. This series has been arranged into the following six subseries: A. Studio Portraits, B. Personal Events, C. Social Events and Activities, D. School Photographs, E. "Bar" Photographs, and F. Informal Photographs. Within each subseries the photographs have been divided by subject, such as Women, Men, Children, Couples, Groups, etc. Within these groupings the photographs have been arranged according to size as much as possible.
Although a list of identified images is included in this inventory, researchers should be cautioned that these are the names as written on the verso of the images and are not necessarily authoritative identifications of the subjects of the images. There are many duplicate prints and these have been housed together either in a separate folder or envelope which is marked "dupes," or within a folder or envelope of other images of the same subject, depending upon how many duplicates there are in the group. Some images are filed with their negatives as this is how some of the prints were housed when they arrived at the Ransom Center. However, for the most part, the negatives are housed in the last three boxes of the collection or, if they are nitrate-based, in the Nitrate Vault.
Subseries A. Studio Portraits
The studio portraits comprise almost one third of the entire collection. Subjects of the portraits include women, men, children, couples, graduates, group and family portraits, men in military uniform, and entertainers. There are numerous duplicates. All subjects are in formal poses, sitting or standing, and prints range in size from 1-1/2 x 2 to 14 x 11 inches. Additional studio portraiture can also be found within the color and hand-colored photographs (Box 18) and matted and mounted prints (Boxes 19, 20). Two photographs in this subseries are not by Palmer; one is stamped Wallace Studios, the other is stamped Kibbes’ Studio.
Subseries B. Personal Events
This subseries includes both studio and informal images. The majority of the photographs are of weddings, and some are of funerals.
Subseries C. Social Events and Activities
This subseries contains non-studio photographs of social activities that appear to be more formal or ritualistic in nature than those found in the "Bar" subseries. Included are formally posed church groups, photographs of groups of men and women, and images of pageants or contests that may be related to a fraternal order. Images of a United Service Organization dance, a group of men in military uniform seated around a football trophy, and the Regal Beer baseball team are also contained in this subseries. However, most of these images are unidentified.
Subseries D. School Photographs
This subseries contains images of children and teenagers seen in both formally posed pictures and engaged in school activities. Also included are team pictures of the football team from Central High School, action photos of a football game, an image of a marching band, and class group photos.
Subseries E. "Bar" Photographs
These images, mainly candid shots of people in bars and restaurants, comprise about a third of the collection. It appears that Palmer liked to take photographs of everyday life and social activities of the African-American community in Galveston. There are many images of individual women posing for the camera. Almost none of these images have any labeling or identification, although some may be dated from calendars or posters appearing in the images. The images also document beer brands and beer paraphernalia, as well as recording social practices in these establishments, such as the provision of "set-ups" with patrons furnishing their own liquor.
Subseries F. Informal Photographs
This subseries contains pictures of individuals and groups in settings other than bars or studios. Some images were taken outdoors, some in homes, and others in places of business. Included are views of Galveston (mostly buildings and businesses in the city), billboards, and a ferry. There are also photographs of automobiles and automobile accidents, and images depicting flooding and structural damages to Galveston. These latter images all have a Palmer Studios stamp which most of the other prints in the collection do not bear.

Series II. Other Studios/Photographers, 1890s-1960s (.5 box)

Included in this series are copy prints, some with their originals, by photographers other than Palmer. It appears Palmer may have used these prints for customer order information, as many of the original prints have sizes and prices written on their versos. Other photographs in this series appear to be originals but were taken too early to have been Palmer's work. Original photographers and studios are not identified on the images. These images are arranged by subject, such as women, men, couples, children, families, etc.

Series III. Special Format Materials, 1900s-1960s (7.5 boxes)

While the majority of the collection is made up of loose gelatin silver prints, this series contains images that have been matted, mounted, and/or hand-colored, as well as color prints, negatives, and other materials. The dates of these items seem to span from the early 1900s, in the case of some of the mounted and matted prints, to the 1960s. This series has been arranged into the following seven subseries: A. Photographic Greeting Cards, B. Color Prints, C. Hand-colored Photographs, D. Paper Mat Prints, E. Mounted Prints, F. Manuscript Materials, and G. Negatives. Within each subseries the photographs have been divided by subject, such as women, men, children, couples, groups, etc. Within these groupings the photographs have been arranged according to size as much as possible.
Subseries A. Photographic Greeting Cards
A few Christmas and New Year's greeting cards, either developed directly on or inserted into card stock comprise this subseries. The subjects are couples, families, and individual women.
Subseries B. Color Prints
A small collection of color photographs, ca. 1957-1963, these informal photographs contain images of Hispanic and African-American families and of a party attended by African-American and Caucasian women.
Subseries C. Hand-colored Photographs
These images include studio portraits as well as informal photographs. Some images are duplicates of unaltered images found in Series I.
Subseries D. Paper Mat Prints
This subseries includes matted studio portraits and informal photographs of women, men, couples, groups, and weddings. Other studios represented in this subseries include The Teal in Houston, and Witwer Studios in Galveston. Many of the mats have no studio name stamped on them; presumably these photographs were taken by Palmer.
Subseries E. Mounted Prints
Divided into Palmer Studio, Other Studios, and Unidentified Studios, these studio portraits and group photographs are mounted on matboard, and, in one case, directly onto a piece of glass. Images in the Other Studios category date from probably the early 1900s to the 1930s, and pre-date Palmer's studio work. Those comprising the Unidentified Studios category may have been taken by Palmer, but there are no identifying marks to verify this assumption. Subjects, including women, men, children, and groups (including a baseball team), are captured in studio portraits or formal group photographs. Of note in this subseries are a crayon enhanced gelatin silver print of a young boy (folder 20.4), and a photograph mounted directly onto glass which now appears to have adhered to the glass (folder 20.15).
Subseries F. Manuscript Materials
This portion of the collection contains correspondence to and from Palmer, a 1955 Bearcat yearbook (Central High School) with an inscription to Palmer from Principal L. A. Morgan, and an envelope of miscellaneous paper documents and copies of a 1957 Report of Transfer relating to Frank Palmer Moton. Most of the correspondence relates to the photography industry with a few items pertaining to Palmer's affiliation with the Holy Royal Arch Masons of Texas.
Subseries G. Negatives
Three boxes of safety film negatives are stored with the collection. Most of the negatives are from Palmer’s Studio and many are labeled, but again the accuracy of the labeling and relation to the images cannot be assumed. Two boxes of nitrate negatives (and other negatives not labeled as safety film) are stored in the Nitrate Vault. One of these boxes contains negatives of a wide variety of subjects, mostly unidentified; the second box contains labeled envelopes of mostly studio portraits.

John E. Palmer Collection--Container List

Series I. Palmer Studio, 1940s-1960s

Subseries A. Studio Portraits
Box Folder
1 1-23 Women
Box Folder
2 1-17 Women (cont'd.)
Box Folder
3 1-20 Men
Box Folder
4 1-19 Infants, children, teenagers
Box Folder
5 1-5 Female
6-7 Male
8-10 Men in military uniform
11-17 Couples
18 Groups (adults)
Box Folder
6 1-3 Families
4 Entertainers
Subseries B. Personal Events
Box Folder
6 5-15 Weddings
16 Funerals
Subseries C. Social Events and Activities
Box Folder
7 1-8 Fraternal societies
9-12 Contests and pageants
13-17 Formal functions and activities, unidentified
Box Folder
8 1-3 Church groups
4-5 Musicians and bands
6 "Drag queens"
7 Women's groups
8 Men's groups
9 Baseball team
10 Fishing
11 Military personnel
Subseries D. School Photographs
Box Folder
8 12-13 School activities and classes
14 Sports
Subseries E. "Bar" Photographs
Box Folder
9 1-12 Individuals
Box Folder
10 1-8 Individuals (cont'd.)
9-16 Groups
Box Folder
11 1-2 Groups (cont'd.)
Box Folder
11 3-9 Individuals
10-14 Groups
Box Folder
12 1-11 Couples
12-15 Groups
Box Folder
13 1-16 Groups (cont'd.)
Box Folder
14 1-14 Groups (cont'd.)
Subseries F. Informal Photographs
Box Folder
15 1-5 Individuals
6 Groups
7-8 Men
9-10 Men and women
Box Folder
15 11-12 Individuals
13-14 Groups
15-17 Adults with children
Box Folder
16 1-2 Places of business
3-10 Working women
11-12 Working men
13 Working men and women
14-15 Men in military uniform
Box Folder
17 1 Animals
2 Automobile accidents
3-4 Automobiles and people
5-7 Hurricane damage
8 Motorcycles
9-10 Palmer, John E.
11 Parades
12-16 Views of Galveston

Series II. Other Studios/Photographers,1890s-1960s

Box Folder
18 1-2 Original photographs (some with copy prints)
Copy prints
Box Folder
18 3-4 Women
5-6 Men
7 Couples
8 Families/children
9 Large studio portrait, woman (damaged)

Series III. Special Format Materials,1900s-1960s

Subseries A. Photographic Greeting Cards
Box Folder
18 10 Christmas/New Year's
Subseries B. Color Prints
Box Folder
18 11 Studio portraits
12 Families and children
13 Parties
14 Personal events, weddings, funerals
Subseries C. Hand-colored Photographs
Studio portraits
Box Folder
18 15-18 Women
19-20 Men
21 Couples
22 Children; informal photographs
23 Mounted print in glass frame
24 Large studio portrait, woman (damaged)
Subseries D. Paper Mat Prints
Palmer Studio
Box Folder
19 1-2 Weddings
3-5 Women
6-7 Men in military uniform
8-9 Couples
10 Children
11 Groups
Other studios
Box Folder
19 12 Teal (woman)
13 Witwer (woman)
Unidentified studios
Box Folder
19 14-15 Women
16-17 Men
18 Couples
19 Graduates
20 Military
21-22 Groups
23 Store, interior
Subseries E. Mounted Prints
Non-Palmer prints
Box Folder
20 1 Woman
2-4 Children (folder 20.4 contains fragile item)
5 Family
6 Group
7 Baseball team
Unidentified photographer (possibly Palmer)
Box Folder
20 8-9 Women
10-11 Men
12 Couple
13-14 Men in military uniform
15 Photograph on glass (fragile)
Subseries F. Manuscript Materials
Box Folder
20 16 Incoming, 1944, 1953
17 Outgoing, n.d.
18 Business cards, papers, 1946-1950
19 Clipping, pamphlet, 1921
20 Moton, Frank Palmer, 1957
21 Central High School (Galveston, TX) Bearcat Yearbook, 1955
Subseries G. Negatives
Unidentified studio portraits
Box Folder
21 1-5 Women
6 Men
7 Children
8 Groups
9 Unidentified informal photographs
10 Concerts, audience
11 Life Photographic Lab (for story "Decades VI"); Ellison, Austin /Palmer Studio photographers
12 8x10" sheet film, weddings, groups, sports, group portraits, child
Captioned Photographs
Box Folder
22 1-3 Individuals
4-5 Military
6 Groups
7 Individuals, couples, buildings
8-23 Individuals, in separate folders
Box Folder
23 1-2 Women
3-4 Couples
5-6 Children
7-8 Adults with children
Box Folder
24 1-61 Unidentified studio portraits, mostly graduates
Box Folder
25 1-13 Informal and studio portraits, all subjects, some labeled

John E. Palmer Collection--Index of Identified Subjects

  • Adams, Ada--5.1
  • Adams, Robert Lee, Mrs.--16.14
  • Alexander, Mrs.--1.3
  • Allen, Williard W., Dr.--7.4
  • Anderson--1.2
  • Anderson, Bennie--3.1, 20.2
  • Anderson, Freddie--5.1
  • Anderson, Sylvester--5.6
  • Anterine, Dorothy--1.1
  • Armstrong, Helen Gladys--5.1
  • Austin, Norman--18.1
  • Backs, Edward--5.6
  • Baker, Mary Bell--1.1
  • Baker, Willie Mae--1.1
  • Banba, Jack, Rev. --5.6
  • Barfield, Helen--1.1
  • Basset, Elbe--5.6
  • Batiste, Boydetta--1.1
  • Batiste, George--5.6
  • Batiste, Idella--5.8
  • Bell, Beatrich (Mrs. Thomas)--4.1
  • Bell, Nettie Mae--5.1
  • Bell, Vera Lee--5.1
  • Bess, E., Miss--5.8
  • Bess, Elizabeth, Miss--1.1
  • Blackburn--5.11
  • Blair, Clara Bell--5.1
  • Bluitt, Beulah--1.1
  • Bob Golden Photographer--4.1
  • Bradley, Arthur, Rev. and Mrs.--5.11
  • Brooks, Emile and Mrs.--5.11
  • Brown, Alfread [sic]--1.1
  • Brown, Chester--3.1
  • Brown, Clarence and Melvia--5.11
  • Brown, Clarence Eugene--5.6
  • Brown, Doris Marie--5.1
  • Brown, George--5.8
  • Brown, Lenola--5.1
  • Brown, Mildred--18.8
  • Brown, Nannie--1.1
  • Bunnough, Katy--6.1
  • Bunse, Jessie--1.1
  • Burnett, Blanch--5.1
  • Byrelan, Alice--4.1
  • Caldwell, P. L.--5.8
  • Captain, Ira and Mrs.--5.11
  • Carrington, Lee (also identified as Mrs. Annie Lewis)--1.1
  • Carter, Annie Mae--5.1
  • Carter, Mrs.--6.1
  • Cassie--4.1
  • Chaison, Philip--5.6
  • Charles, Wilma--4.1
  • Charlotte--18.12
  • Cobbs, Rogers William--5.6
  • Coleman, Lynell--12.1
  • Coleman, Marie Antoinette--5.1
  • Collier, Ven, Mrs.--1.1
  • Collins--7.4
  • Colvin, Minnie Mae--5.1
  • Conily, Albert--5.11
  • Conley, Annie Mae--12.1
  • Crawford, J. C., and family--6.1
  • Crawford, W. B., Mr.--12.1
  • Crawford, Lucinda, Mrs.-- 4.1
  • Crawford, Mary, Mrs.--1.1
  • Crenshaw--7.4
  • Davis [?], Dan Sanders Jr.--3.1
  • Davis, Dave--5.6
  • Dehart, Gladys Ruth--5.1
  • Delbuln [?], John--5.6
  • Dent--7.4
  • Deshatie--5.8
  • Diz, Belia--5.18
  • Donahue, Zenobia--18.3, 20.1
  • Doris--1.2
  • Dupree--7.4
  • Eddie--5.6
  • Effie, Francis--5.1
  • Ellis, Alfredia--5.1
  • Ellis, Genevieve--5.1
  • Elizabeth--1.4
  • Ennis, Guy--5.8
  • Estelle--1.4
  • Esther, Ruth--5.1
  • Etter--7.4
  • Evelyn--1.4
  • Ford, Ruth--1.1
  • Franklin, Addie Mae--5.1
  • Franklin, Ella Lucile--5.1
  • Franks--18.1
  • Free [?], Gl[oria] [?]--9.1
  • Giles, Pleasant Edward--5.6
  • Gillian, Mary--1.1
  • Gobart, Helen--1.1
  • Gobert, M., Mrs.--1.1
  • Golden, Bob--see Bob Golden Photographer
  • Goodew--4.1
  • Graves--7.4
  • Griffins, Jim--18.1
  • Guarnels, Mary--4.1
  • Guidey, Ester--1.5
  • Guilley, Ruby--12.1
  • Hall, Howard, Cpl.--16.14
  • Hall, Dorothy--3.1 (torn in half)
  • Hall, Ethel, Mrs.--1.2
  • Hallet, Richard--5.11
  • Hamilton, Bennie, Mr.--5.8
  • Harris, Glossie Mae--1.2
  • Harris, Myrtle--5.1
  • Hawkins, Hattie--5.1
  • Hawkins, Walter and Mrs.--5.11
  • Haynes, Ardelia--5.1
  • Haynes, Coppin--5.8
  • Helen--1.4
  • Herman, Robbie Lee--5.1
  • Hill, Eva L.--1.2
  • Hill, Robert L.--1.2
  • Hilton, E.--3.1
  • Holmes, Theodosia--4.1
  • Holmes, Willie--5.6
  • Howard, John Jr., Mrs.--1.2
  • Howard, William--5.8
  • Hughes, Mary Lucille--5.1
  • Hunter, L.--5.8
  • Hunter, R.--1.4
  • Hynson, Eddie--3.1
  • Irvin, Abron--16.14
  • Isabelle--1.4
  • Jackson, E.--5.8
  • Jackson, J. I., Rev., and family--6.1
  • Jaly, Mother, Jovino--18.1
  • James, Hattie Mae--1.2
  • James, O. V.--3.1
  • James, R. C.--5.8
  • Jasper, Mr. and Mrs.--5.11
  • Jefferson, Arthur--16.14
  • Jefferson, Corine--5.1
  • Jefferson, Williams--5.6
  • Johnson, E. D.--7.4
  • Johnson, James--5.6
  • Johnson, Marie, Mrs.--5.8
  • Johnson, Robert--5.6
  • Johnson, Vera Lee--1.2
  • Jones--7.4
  • Jones, Johnnie, III--5.6
  • Jones, Alice--1.2
  • Jones, Emanda--1.2
  • Jones, Frankie Mae--5.1
  • Jones, Freddie--3.1
  • Justice, Rosie Mae--5.1
  • Kelley--7.4
  • Kibbes' Studio--4.1
  • King, Etta--1.2
  • Kirkwood, L. K.--3.1
  • Kittling, Willa--5.1
  • Law, Oscar B.--16.14
  • Lee, Ruby--20.3
  • Lewis, John G.--7.4
  • Lewis, Leon--5.6
  • Lewis, Roy--7.4
  • Lockhart, L. L.--7.4
  • Mark, Catell Lenora--5.1
  • Marshall, Charles--12.1
  • Martin, Filmore B.--5.6
  • Mason, Gladys--5.1
  • Masons--7.4
  • Mather--4.1
  • McCloud, Lois--5.1
  • McDaniel, George--1.4
  • McGrue--3.1, 18.1
  • McKinney, Luther--3.1
  • McMahon, Clo--4.1
  • McNealy, Ernest--5.6
  • Mennitt [?], Ruth--5.1
  • Mickens, Mildred--5.1
  • Miller, Daisy W.--16.14
  • Moore, Beatrice--5.1
  • Moore, Marie--5.1
  • Nickerson, Gloria Vivian--5.1
  • Norvel--19.1
  • Olbera, Idel--9.1
  • Omas and Oman [?]--18.1
  • Palmer--7.4
  • Pat--1.4
  • Patterson, Cerise Michelle--4.1
  • Paynes, O.--7.4
  • Phillip J.--3.1
  • Pitre, Rhonda--18.31
  • Prater, Ada--1.2
  • Queenclabre [?], Clara B.--18.15
  • Radford, Glennette--18.3
  • Reado, Geraldine--5.1
  • Rico--20.10
  • Robinson, B. R.--5.1
  • Robinson, Charles M.--18.19
  • Samuel, Beatrice, Mrs.--1.2
  • Sanders, Bernard--5.6
  • Scott--7.4
  • Searcy, Gloria W.--5.1
  • Shakesniden, Wilma--5.6
  • Shiloh, Dave--2.7
  • Shropshire--7.4
  • Smith, Ardes--18.1
  • Smith, Naomi--5.1
  • Solomon, Mrs.--9.1
  • Southern, Vernon--5.6
  • Sowell, Dovzelle --5.1
  • Stanley, Most N.--9.1
  • Stanton--7.4
  • Stevens, Alma--5.11
  • Stevens, Mary Lee--5.1
  • Taylor, A., Mrs.--3.1
  • Tayor, Mrs.--18.18
  • Texana, Joseph, Pvt.--5.11
  • Thomas, Sidney--16.14
  • Thompson, Verna Lee--5.1
  • Valley, Joseph--4.1
  • Vallie, Moody--4.1
  • Walker, Maybelline--5.1
  • Wallace Studios--5.1
  • Ward, J. L.--7.4
  • Ware, Maud Anna--9.1
  • Ware, Sophie, Mrs.--1.2
  • Washington, Lissimae--1.2
  • West, Joe--5.6
  • Whitehead, Gladys--1.6
  • Whittington, Ervin--18.22
  • Wilbur, Luther--18.1
  • Williams, Allan--5.6
  • Williams, Louise--1.2 (see also Williams, Mary C.)
  • Williams, Mary C.--1.2 (see also Williams, Louise)
  • Williams, Robert M.--5.6
  • Wilson, Mary, Mrs.--20.8
  • Woodard, Lettie J.--1.2
  • Woods, Gerturde [sic]--1.2
  • Wright, Veara--5.1
  • Young, Sarah B.--5.1
  • Young, Willie John--5.6