National Anthropological Archives

Library of Congress Copyright Office photographs of Native Americans, circa 1860s-1930s


Collection ID:
circa 1860s-1930s
Physical Description:
6,000 Photographic prints
99 boxes

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
The photographs comprise documentation of Indigenous North American peoples and cultures, from over 100 communities. Most of the photographs are portraits of individuals and groups, often in a studio setting, but there are also photographs of people engaged in various activities, views of camps, villages, dances and ceremonies, and scenery. Included are photos of people portraying Hiawatha, Minnehaha, and other fictional roles as part of the Hiawatha play.
The copyright claimants include well-known photographers such as Frank Rinehart, Joseph Dixon, and Edward S. Curtis, as well as many lesser-known photographers. In some cases, the copyright claimant is not the photographer at all but perhaps the sponsor of the photographic endeavor. There are also photographs for which the copyright claimant is not known (Series 3).
Series 1: Copyright claimant A-Z comprises all the photographs by known copyright claimant and is organized alphabetically by copyright claimant.
Series 2: Edward S. Curtis comprises a third of the collection with almost 2000 prints and is organized by the volumes of Curtis's 20 volume publication, The North American Indian. Please see separate finding aid for this series;
Series 3: Copyright claimant unidentified comprises photographs for which copyright claimant is unknown. This series is organized by geographic region in the United States and elsewhere.
It should be noted that all dates given in this finding aid are copyright dates, and not (necessarily) when the photographs were made.


The collection is arranged into 3 series. Series 1: Copyright claimant A-Z; Series 2: Edward S. Curtis; and Series 3: Copyright claimant unidentified.


Gina Rappaport
Custodial History
The collection is an aggregate of photographs of Native Americans submitted by individuals and companies to the Copyright Office. It represents the work of over 250 photographers, and includes photographs of people and places from over 100 Native American/First Nations communities, dating from the late 19th to early 20th centuries.
After a time, the copyright submissions were transferred to the Library of Congress. As two copies of a photo were required for the copyright process, the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division held two sets of the photographs. One set was transferred to the Smithsonian circa 1958.
Processing Information
The collection was first processed in the early 1970s, and an attempt was made to organize the collection by Tribe/Culture and within that designation by other subjects, such as people, food preparation, habitations, ceremonies, and other topics. Unfortunately this organization often fragmented the groupings of photographs by copyright claimant, and led to many of the photographs being unidentified as they were taken out of their original context.
In 2012 the collection was reorganized by copyright claimant and in doing so, the fragmented groupings came back together and previously unidentified photographs were able to be identified.
It should be noted that the dates presented in the finding aid are all copyright dates, and not (necessarily) when the photographs were made.

Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Use note
Contact the repository for terms of use.
Conditions Governing Access note
The collection is open for research.
Access to the collection requires an appointment.
Preferred Citation note
Photo Lot 59, Library of Congress Copyright Office photographs of Native Americans, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

National Anthropological Archives
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