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W. Bruce Fye hospital postcard collection

Identifier: KUMC-MSS-62

Scope and Contents

376 vintage hospital postcards depicting 246 hospitals throughout the United States, 1905-1981.


  • 1905 - 1981

Conditions Governing Access

Some folders are restricted because of their sensitive nature or because they contain personal or confidential information. These records are protected by federal laws such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Examples of restricted records are personnel files, medical records, financial records, and any materials containing personal information such as addresses and social security numbers. Restricted materials are identified at the box and/or folder level within the finding aid. Questions about these materials may be directed to the Archivist. Access may be allowed on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the KUMC Archives and only after a proposal has been reviewed and approved by the University of Kansas Human Subjects Committee. All requests are subject to review by the Archives staff to determine accessibility.

Conditions Governing Use

Archives staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of materials. The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of libel, privacy, and copyright which may be involved in the use of this collection.

Biographical / Historical

This unique and very comprehensive collection of postcards depicts hospitals across the United States during the first seven decades of the twentieth century. Most of the cards are in color and were printed before 1950. This was the most dynamic period in the history of American hospitals as they emerged to become the chief locus of care for persons who were sick, injured, or dying. This comprehensive collection, built up by W. Bruce Fye over a period of four decades, is an invaluable iconography of North American hospital architecture.

These postcards provide a fascinating view of the social aspects of illness and health care delivery. Many of them contain messages from patients, their friends, or family members that reflect the impact that an acute or chronic illness had on them as individuals and their circle. Other messages reflect the dynamics of postcard collecting, a popular hobby that encouraged the production and preservation of this unique form of ephemera.

The images also reveal much about the social context of the institutions depicted. Through them we see how patients and visitors reached the hospital: the evolution of transportation from the horse and buggy to the street car and the automobile. A multitude of different vehicles are depicted in these images (including horse-drawn and early motorized ambulances). The clothing and postures of the staff members or other persons who posed or were caught inadvertently by the camera or the artist's brush remind us that these were living institutions, not simply inanimate structures of wood, brick, or stone. Technological innovations are also apparent from the telephone and electrical lines connected to the buildings to the ambulances and the helicopter pads that have become part of the landscape of many American hospitals.

The institutions depicted range from small and little known private hospitals in obscure towns to major academic medical centers in our largest cities. Although most of the cards depict small hospitals, referral centers and academic medical centers are well represented. In some instances there are several images of the same institution from different perspectives, at different times, or with artistic touches added or subtracted for various reasons. There are several rare real photo postcards where an actual photograph was incorporated into the card.

The emergence of social history in recent decades and the publication of important monographs on hospitals by leading historians such as Charles Rosenberg and Rosemary Stevens have stimulated interest in the iconography of health care delivery and hospitals. Hospital post cards have become increasingly scarce on the market as interest in both the social history of medicine and photography have increased.

Norman Stevens edited an important collection of pertinent essays in his book Postcards in the Library: Invaluable Visual References (New York: Haworth Press, 1995). Ventura College sociology professor Wayne Mellinger wrote in a review, "Postcards in the Library: Invaluable Visual Resources provides the first serious discussion about postcards as a component of library collections. Norman Stevens has assembled a fine collection of essays which address why libraries should be collecting postcards and what they should be doing with them, Its articles describe a wide variety of postcard collections in libraries, demonstrate the scholarly potential of postcard collections, offer practical advice about selection, cataloguing, and the preservation of postcards, and provide annotated bibliographies of scholarly works. As a help to librarians with postcard collections and all others interested in these paperboard gems, this is the best available guide."

- W. Bruce Fye, MD


.4 Cubic Feet (1 archives box)

Language of Materials



Postcards are foldered and arranged alphabetically by subject.

Custodial History

W. Bruce Fye, MD, built the collection of hospital postcards over a period of four decades. He donated the collection to the University of Kansas Medical Center Archives in 2020.

Guide to the W. Bruce Fye Hospital Postcard Collection
W. Bruce Fye hospital postcard collection
Finding aid prepared by CAW. Finding aid encoded by CAW.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the KUMC Archives Repository

University of Kansas Medical Center
2017 Robinson, Mail Stop 1025
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Kansas City KS 66160 United States