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Postcards from Viola, 1935

One of my ebay customers -- Sophie -- spent the time to look through the postcards in our online store and found two from the same woman Viola -- one from Egypt, one from Cuba. I pointed out to Sophie that there was a third. She bought it immediately and wrote:

I'm so glad you let me know about the Ceylon card! I was captivated by the idea of a woman of that era seeing the world and writing home to tell her family of her adventures. She seemed so at ease and self-assured. This was obviously not her first time abroad. Just from those three little cards, a fascinating 'life' developed in my imagination. I've found a small old suitcase and pictures of an adventurous-looking young woman to display with the cards in my 'Viola' corner. Now I just need to find some travel stickers for the case. 8-]

Sophie's interest got me interested too. If the ones she found were discards from Jim's postcard collection, maybe there were more. Sure enough... 12 more, along the route in the map below. The 1930s messages are simple, like postcard messages usually are. Not much room for philosophizing and no place for complaining.

(If the map below doesn't show the span her her travels from Cuba to Japan, use the zoom buttons to zoom out or, with the open-hand pointer, click-drag the map to the left. Zoom in to see closer views of the geography.)

View Larger Map

The Postcards

Click on each postcard thumbnail to see an enlarged version of each postcard.


cairo 1935

Feb 4 [no year] - Cairo - This is the costume you see on the majority of native women in Cairo - the married women have that little brass piece on nose that joins upper and lower veil, the unmarried don't have the brass piece. Went to Pyramids this afternoon & rode a camel. Love, Viola [Postmarked Cairo] Color postcard published by Lehnert and Landrock, Cairo, Egypt: "2062 Cairo, Native Woman."




[no date] Ceylon is really a gem. It is noted for being a place to buy precious stones. But is has luxurious vegetation, quite a contrast to India. This washing scene is common in India & Ceylon. Feeling fine. Love, Viola. [postmarked in Penang] Color photo copyright by Plate, Ceylon: "#4 Dhobies work at Colombo Lake, Ceylon."



taj majal 1935

[Feb 13, 1935] This is one of the places [Taj Majal, Agra] I visit on the long trip through India. It is a wealthy English city. I know I am going to enjoy everything. Viola [Postmarked 13 Feb 1935, Bombay Foreign]Real Photo postcard, copyright Will F Taylor: "J1. Agra, Taj Majal."


taj majal 1935

Feb 16 Agra, India. Visited Taj Mahal this morning and it was most impressive. I don't know when I saw anything as beautiful. Enjoying everything. Love, Viola [postmarked 16 Feb 1935, Agra, India]. Real Photo postcard by Gevorst [?]



darjeeling photo 1935

Feb 19 [no year] - Dear Norma - Arrived at Darjeeling at eleven. It was raining hard but went in rickshaws from train to hotel. I am looking for sunshine tomorrow. Enjoying trip to India so far. Love Viola. Real Photo postcard, hand colored, signed by J Singh & Co. "General View of Darjeeling."


darjeeling photo 1935

Feb 19, 1935- Dear Evelyn - This is a view I am expecting to see tomorrow. It rained when we arrived at Mt. Everest hotel today but good weather is predicted for tomorrow. Here's hoping. Love, Viola Real Photo postcard, hand colored, signed by J Singh & Co., Darjeeling, "Sunrise from Tiger Hill."



madora temple photo 1935

Mar 1, 1935 - This is a picture of Madora Temple, one of the largest and most interesting in India. It covers 50 acres and the natives come and pray everyday before breakfast. Enjoyed trip to India very much, not as strenuous as pictured and talked about. Arrive at Penang tonight. Love, Viola Real Photo postcard. [Postmarked Paquebot, Penang, 2 Mar 1935]



borobudur temple java 1935 photo

[No date] I am enjoying the trip through Java very much. The boat could not land at Serang so we are going to Surabaya. Viola. Real Photo postcard: Borobudur Temple, Java [The "1935" date is in my husband's hand — an assumption.]

bali rice fields 1935 photo

[No date] Rice Plantation, Bali. Real Photo postcard. [The "1935" date is in my husband's hand — an assumption.]



Mch 22/35- My first observation of China. No doubt I will have many interesting moments. The sea is rough again but we get there tomorrow. Love, Viola [Postmarked Hong, Kong] On a Canadian Pacific Round the World Cruise "Memogram" postcard, "China: Roofs Heavy with Design."


Mch 30, 1935 - We are enroute to Peking from Shanghai and the weather is getting colder every minute. When you are having spring, we will be having winter as northern China is very cold. Love, Viola. On a Canadian Pacific Round the World Cruise "Memogram" postcard, "China: Laden Junks Go Gliding By."


beijing china 1935 photo

Wed, Apr 3 - Greetings from Pekin. This is the high spot in China. I walked up the great wall today. Yesterday visited the Summer Palace and saw the marble boat on the other side. Love, Viola [Postmarked 26 April 26 1935 from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada] Real Photo postcard from Hartung's, Peking. In Viola's handwriting: "Marble Boat at Summer Palace, Peiping"


April 13 [no year]- En route to Yokahama - We have had lots of rain here but I have enjoyed Kyoto and Nara. Arrive in Yokahama tomorrow. Best Wishes, Viola [Postmarked Yokohama] On a Canadian Pacific Round the World Cruise "Memogram" postcard, "Picture Book Japan."



nikko japan 1935

April 16 - I am now in Nikko a most beautiful spot, but a little too early for the cherry blossoms as it is colder over 2000 ft. above sea level. The Cryptomeria trees are most beautiful. Love, Viola [Postmarked 4/13/1935, Japan] 4-color screened postcard, "Ice skating on the Lake Placid, Kanaya Hotel, Nikko."



morro castle

May 16, 1935. Received your letter also one from Evelyn & LeRoy. Enjoyed them very much. Havana is the same as last spring but am taking included sightseeing just the same. See you soon. Love, Viola [from Cuba]

Who was Viola?

Was Viola a young adventurer looking for a husband? A spinster aunt? A widow? Was she changed forever by her journey? Or did she skim along the surface as a well-pampered tourist? (Although it's hard to imagine too much pampering on the road to mountainous Darjeeling in 1935. We do know that she was good-natured and not deterred by rain.

On 2/4/07 I got an e-mail from a PhD student at Columbia. He found the information I'd posted about Viola and wrote:

Do you still have these postcards?... The reason I am interested in these postcards is because they were written by Viola Wertheim Bernard, who was traveling at the time with her husband, Theos Bernard, who is the subject of my dissertation here at Columbia University.

Bernard was an early traveller into Tibet and a pioneer of Indian and Tibetan studies at Columbia University. Interesting.

My Columbia University correspondent was concerned that I had misread the dates somehow, since Viola Wertheim Bernard had made the journey along this route in 1936.

Was Viola really the wife of this dashing romantic figure? I decided to dig in.

Viola was... Viola Schaefer, high school teacher, Buffalo NY.

On 2/7/07, I took a stab at finding Viola in Since she wrote her postcards to Arthur, Evelyn and Norma Schaefer on Linwood Avenue in Buffalo NY, I guessed that my Viola was also a Schaefer.

And there she was, in both the 1920 and 1930 census data.

Viola Schaefer was born 1887 (some discrepancies in birth dates given) and lived with her family on Linwood Avenue. She and her two younger sisters Evelyn and Norma were all high school teachers, unmarried. Her brother Arthur was a physician. Her brother LeRoy (mentioned in her Cuba postcard) worked in the steel industry.

So she took her 'round-the-world adventure when she was 48 years old — a single woman and mature educator. I'm so happy I found this!

And if I have found the correct Social Security Record, her official dates are 8 Aug 1887 - May 1982 — a good long life. Jim probably bought the cards about that time -- when the family belongings were all being dispersed to estate sales and collectibles shops.


20 April 2005 (revised 7 Feb 2007, 24 May 2008)