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Joseph Judd Pennell photograph collection

Call Number: RH PH Pennell


The J.J. Pennell Photograph Collection consists of 30,000 glass plate negatives taken in and around the Junction City, Kansas area between 1891-1923. Although Pennell was a highly successful portrait studio photographer, he also spent time in the community and at the nearby army post of Fort Riley recording social, church and school activities, construction and town growth, events such as floods, parades, polo games, and the routines of artillery and cavalry operations at the fort. The collection is particularly important because of its record of change in American society.


  • Creation: 1888 - 1923


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of Joseph Judd Pennell

The son of a confederate soldier, Joseph Judd Pennell was born March 9, 1866 in Kings Creek, North Carolina. When he was about 18, his father's business failed and the family could no longer afford the cost of private education in the North Carolina schools. A cousin returning from a trip to Kansas told of the good public schools in Kansas, so the decision was made to leave North Carolina and settle in Kansas.

In his first years in Kansas, Joseph Pennell worked as a carpenter making coffins for an Abilene undertaker. His first venture into the business of photography began in March 1888, when he bought a half interest in a Junction City photography studio owned by L.A. Ramsour. After a year of work in the studio, he quit to travel through the countryside making photographs in his "photo car," probably a wagon with a darkroom set up in it.

A year of touring the countryside gave him the desire for a more stable and permanent business, so he returned to Junction City and entered into a brief partnership with S.D. Hopkins. At the end of a year, he opened a studio in partnership with Ed Zellner, whom he bought out two years later in 1893.

In 1898, Pennell married Edith Stanley and their only child, Joseph Stanley Pennell, was born in 1903. As a photographer, Pennell was a success in both the business and the photographic world. His business grew enough for him to have a new studio built in 1907. The building is still in use in Junction City. Along with his business success, Pennell achieved recognition and awards for his photography. His work was shown at the World's Fair in 1893 and at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904. It was also published in photographic journals and in popular magazines of the time such as Munsey's and Ladies Home Journal.

Pennell was active in his community, serving on the Board of Education, the Chamber of Commerce, and in organizations such as the Rotary Club and Knights of Columbus. Pennell continued to operate his studio until his premature death by blood poisoning at the age of 56 on April 3, 1922. His widow, Edith, kept the studio running for about a year, after which the negatives went into storage. Subsequently, the negatives became the property of Pennell's son, Joseph Stanley Pennell, the author of two novels based on his family history and life in Junction City, The History of Rome Hanks and The History of Nora Beckham.


81 boxes (6,704 contact prints + 30,000 glass plate negatives, 302 original photographs)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

Pennell's photographs were taken in and around Junction City, Kansas between 1888 and 1923. The images of the collection present a comprehensive record of life in a turn-of-the-century small Kansas town and nearby army post of Fort Riley. One of the major U.S. Army posts, Fort Riley was the site of a light artillery unit, several cavalry units, including the 9th and 10th black cavalry troops, one of the best cavalry schools in the world, and the site of Camp Funston, a major army induction center during World War I.

Pennell's portraits record the changing styles and evolving lives of the citizens of the town and fort as they moved from their first baby picture to their wedding portraits to the final portrait in a coffin surrounded by flowers and words of farewell. Although primarily a studio portrait photographer, Pennell also went out into the community to photograph. He recorded business, social, church and school activities; people's prized moments and possessions, from Fred Hall's chicken to Dr. Brinkley's diploma to the Bumstead's automobile; events that touched everyone's lives -- the floods, the parades, the visit of President Theodore Roosevelt, the racket 9 cent sale, the polo games and the Chautauqua, to name a few.

Within the photographs, the detail and complexity of rural and urban life is revealed. The collection as a whole shows the change over time of the styles of fashion and consumer goods, the appearance of new buildings as the town grew, and the entrance of technology into everyday life.

One of the most notable changes that Pennell documents is the gradual movement from horse to automobile power. The photographs of Junction City streets show the replacement of the horse by the car and the growth of community concern with the needs of the automobile as reflected in the photographs of the "Good Roads" - photos of men working on country roads, of the paving of Junction City streets, and the appearance of auto dealerships, repair shops and gas stations.

The collection consists of approximately 30,000 glass plate negatives, 6,074 contact prints, some dry-mounted on boards, 302 original Pennell photographs, and ten studio register books containing Pennell's negative identification system. The glass plate negatives vary in size from 4"x5" to 12"x20", with the bulk of the collection in the 5"x7" format. There are also a small number of flexible negatives and 46 large panoramic negatives.

Physical Location

RH PH Pennell

Other Finding Aids

An index of portraits (group and individual, both in alphabetical order and print number order) is available at ksrl.kc.pennellportraits.pdf.

A topical index in print number order is available at pennelltopical.pdf.

Both files are over 55 mb in size and may take a moment to download. These searchable indexes can be used to find digitized prints in our digital collections. The print number may be located to the left or right of the photograph description in these pdfs. Once in the digital collections, researchers can use the print number or a part of the title for searching.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, Joseph Stanley Pennell, 1950.

Existence and Location of Copies

Digitized versions of almost 6,000 images from the Pennell collection are available at

Related Materials

Joseph Judd Pennell and Joseph Stanley Pennell collection, RH MS 833, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

"Frozen in Time" J. J. Pennell exhibit photographs, RH PH 48, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Joseph Judd Pennell collection, [1893?-1925] (microfilm), Kansas Collection, RH MF 116, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Pennell, Joseph Judd. Picturesque Fort Riley in Photo-Gravure from Recent Negatives. Junction City, Ks: J.J. Pennell & C.S. McGirr, 1900. Located at RH BK41 at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Shortridge, James R. Our town on the Plains: J. J. Pennell's photographs of Junction City, Kansas, 1893-1922. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2000. Located at Kenneth Spencer Research Library (Reference) and at Watson Library, F689.J8 S56 2000, University of Kansas.

Guide to the Joseph Judd Pennell Photographs Collection
Joseph Judd Pennell photograph collection
Finding aid prepared by mrm, 2010. Finding aid encoded by mrm, 2010. Finding aid revised by mwh, 2017, 2018, 2022.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Joseph Judd Pennell Photograph Collection, Kansas Collection, RH PH Pennell, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States