Thomas C. Donaldson and the 1890 U.S. Census

From the Archives

By: Alex Pezzati

Originally Published in 2000

View PDF

Flathead [Salish] women and children, Flathead Agency, Montana. Ca. 1890-91
Flathead [Salish] women and children, Flathead Agency, Montana. Ca. 1890-91

The University of Pennsylvania Museum Archives houses thousands of 19th centry photographs documenting people and places all over the world. One outstanding collection was gathered by Thomas Corwin Donaldson (1843-98), who had a lifelong interest in Native North American. His collection of artifacts and photographs was acquired for the Museum by department store magnate John Wanamaker in 1899.

Donaldson, born in Ohio and trained in law, was a man of many accomplishments. In 1869 he moved to Idaho Territory, where he held vari­ous government posts. He later became General Agent for the Smithsonian Institution, for which he compiled the monumental work The George Cat­lin Indian Gallery (1887) on the life and work of this famous painter of Native American subjects. He was one of a committee of six appointed by the U.S. Government to codify the land laws of the United States; his contribution was published as The Public Domain (1880-84).

In the years 1890-93, Donaldson served as Special Agent in charge of the Indian portion of the Eleventh Census of the United States. In this capacity he acquired about 1,500 photographs to illustrate the Deport on Indians Taxed and Indians Not Taxed in the United States (Except Alaska) (t894). These images were obtained from local photographic studios throughout the country or taken by Spe­cial Agents assigned to a particular area. The photographs are well documented and represent the work of little-known photographers. and honestly and accurately portray the living condi­tions and personalities of the subjects (see the back cover for more images). The historical value of the images increases when one considers that nearly all the data collected in the 1890 census was later lost in a fire.

Alex Pexzati
Deference Archivist

Cite This Article

Pezzati, Alex. "Thomas C. Donaldson and the 1890 U.S. Census." Expedition Magazine 42, no. 1 (March, 2000): -. Accessed April 18, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

Report problems and issues to