• Introduction
  • Biography
  • Resources

COLLECTION OVERVIEW

The Prescott Collection, named for its primary creator Dr. Henry Prescott and for his wife, Hester Swift Prescott, consists of an estimated 1,300 negatives and 188 photographic albums holding over 8,500 photographs. The vast majority of the photographs are of everyday life in his home towns of New Bedford and South Dartmouth, beginning in 1892 and continuing until his death in 1945. His subjects included their beloved dogs, their nieces and nephews at play, local architecture, neighbors and friends, and boats sailing on Buzzards Bay, to name just a few. Photographs were taken at Rockland, a farm estate in South Dartmouth originally owned by Hester's father Dr. William N. Swift, and also at their residence at 26 Grove Street in New Bedford, and eventually the couple's newly constructed home, "Windward" in South Dartmouth. The photographic story of this life and the world of comfort and leisure represented is a reflection of a particular time and place - this "one small region in a wide world".

Dr. Prescott was in no sense a reformer or a political activist. He did not employ photography as a tool for protest or social change. On the contrary, he seemed content to record the world of privilege into which he had been born. It is notable that few indications can be found in the photographs of the social transformations and economic upheaval that characterized the half century covered by the collection. Prescott's images do not show us dismantled whaleship hulks abandoned at New Bedford's wharves, textile workers on strike against lowered wages, women celebrating female suffrage, men lined up at soup kitchens during the Great Depression. A few photographs of recruiting rallies during World War I are the closest we get to contemporary life outside Prescott's idyllic limits. Prescott chose to concentrate on the domestic, the personal, the everyday-his world, not the outside world. Yet his lens was truthful-and artful-in ways that he himself might not have understood. That is to say that the record he has left, of the life he and his circle of family and friends led, allows those of later generations and backgrounds to form their own informed opinions about the meaning of the scenes he depicts.

We do not present the Prescott Collection as a nostalgic trip through a leisured life. There is useful information contained in these images: details of sea- and streetscapes, buildings, gardens, interiors, clothing and appearance, leisure activities, and domestic and community life. This material shines a spotlight on one family across several decades, allowing one to trace a subject across time, and see visual evidence of change and/or continuity. We hope this resource becomes a valuable reference tool and invite your comments and observations.

WHO WERE THE PRESCOTTS

Henry Dudley Prescott was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1876. Henry's father, Dr. Charles Dudley Prescott was one of the founders and eventually president of St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Henry's mother, Martha Knowles Prescott of New Bedford died in 1890 when he was 14.

Henry attended Friends Academy, Milton Academy and eventually Harvard, where he graduated with his A.B., or Artium Baccalaureatus in 1898. He received his medical degree from Harvard in 1902, although his medical career was circumscribed by illness.

In 1911 he married Hester Williams Swift, also a native of New Bedford. They never had any children; their lives were filled with family, friends, dogs, and their sailboat "Kotick". Henry was a member of the American Medical Society, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and the New Bedford Yacht Club.

Henry died in 1945 at the age of 68. The photo albums continue until 1960, most likely continued by his wife Hester, who died in 1962. His vast collection was donated to the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library by Waldo Howland, a close friend of the Prescott family.

Bibliography

  • Sea Struck
    By: William Bunting
  • New Bedford Merchant
    By: Horatio Hathaway
  • Sou´West & by West of Cape Cod
    By: Llewellyn Howland
  • A Life in Boats
    By: Waldo Howland

Additional Resources

Index of Vessels in Prescott Collection

The New Bedford Whaling Museum Photo Archives would like to thank Keith Kauppila and Mary Myers Kauppila for their generosity which made this exhibit possible, Llewellyn Howland III for his wisdom and shared love of photography, Nancy Thornton for her research assistance, and finally Waldo Howland, for the gift of the Prescott Collection which he transported from the Prescotts' attic.
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