Behind Closed Doors: Agency and Action in Early 20th Century Picture Postcards


Couples caught in romantic embrace is nothing new to grace the visuals of early twentieth century picture postcards. Women commonly appearing as focal points – often delivering kind words, from holiday cheer to distant longing in an air of passivity. In this German example, we see a combination and deviation of these two common motifs to instead create an image steeped in queer agency alongside a short poem reading:

Lass mich zu Dir!

Habe ich dein Herz errungen,

Lasse mich auch ein.

Möcht’bei dir im Herzen wohnen

Und im Kämmerlein

Let me come to you!

I have won your heart,

now let me in.

I want to live in your heart,

alone with you.


Painting a picture of a couple in a moment of togetherness, this poem appears alongside the image of an embrace between a maid and woman in uniform. While same sex coupling rarely makes its way to the front pages of early twentieth century print media, the forces within this piece working together are something more interesting than just an image presumably created for heterosexual male consumption. Firstly, the presence of female agency sets this piece apart. Unlike the majority of poetic picture postcards of the period which frame women in scenes of inaction and passivity – a notable example being the faraway wartime spouse or lover; this image clearly represents women seeking sexual agency. Within the text of the attached poem, the translated verse supports agency in the courtship of the two women shown; one having believed proven her love to the other in hope of romantic companionship.

The visually loaded images shown in many early twentieth century postcards often suggest more than what appears at face value. Whether heralding the return to a traditional rural lifestyle or sexualizing a international conflict, single or paired figures before picturesque environments and backdrops leave the modern viewer much to read into. Visually, the image of a woman dressed as a maid leaning into the embrace of a woman dressed in mens uniform could be read as more than a deviation from professional and sexual gender normativity – but as a representation of the domestic ideals of traditional womanhood having their hearts “won” by a sexually liberated and independent feminist figure.

While analysis of early twentieth century print media lay much in the eye of the viewer, taking apart the core visual elements of such examples can aid us in the understanding of how gender was perceived and represented in popular media in the time of it’s creation.

Note: In my description and short analysis, I chose to use the term queer to encompass the non-heternormative elements present.

Special thanks to Ethan and Tumblr users senthessa and grimbl for German translation.

Image Source:  mementomori-stock.deviantart. Last Modified July 20th, 2010.