Skip to main content
University of Louisville University Libraries


Digital Collections : Claude C. Matlack Collection

Claude C. Matlack Collection

About the Collection

The Claude C. Matlack Collection documents the formative years of a mountain settlement school in Oneida, Kentucky, and provides a poignant look at life in the Cumberland Mountains of Clay County between 1903 and 1916. The collection also includes pictures taken in the photographer's hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, plus a few scenes from Indiana and Colorado.

Oneida classroom

Claude C. Matlack (1878-1944) was an amateur photographer, working as an engineer for his family's plumbing and lighting business, when he happened to meet a trustee of Oneida Baptist Institute on a train in Eastern Kentucky. The trustee talked about the mountain school where Professor James Anderson Burns was educating children from both sides of a bitter family feud in an environment of love and compassion in hopes of ultimately ending the vicious cycle that killed generations of young men and trapped their families in poverty. Matlack accepted the trustee's invitation to stop for a visit, stayed for a week and took his first pictures of the school and the people of Clay County. He returned numerous times over the next dozen years, eventually becoming a trustee of the institute himself.

Around 1916 Matlack left Kentucky for an electrical engineering job in Florida. A few years later he opened a professional photography studio in Miami. Over the next two decades he captured a wide variety of subjects on film, including the Everglades, Seminole Indians, South Florida real estate development, Miami Beach recreation, and the young aviation and motion picture industries.

After his death in 1944, Matlack's photographs and equipment were acquired by Mileo Studio of Coral Gables. In 1952, the studio donated about 10,000 Matlack prints and negatives to the Historical Association of Southern Florida, known since 2010 as HistoryMiami. They archived over 7,000 Florida items in their museum and asked executives at WHAS-TV in Louisville, Kentucky, to find an appropriate repository for Matlack's Kentucky work. The material was shown to Samuel W. Thomas at The Louisville Courier-Journal & Times Book Division. Moved by the images, Dr. Thomas and colleagues at the George Rogers Clark Press spent several years exploring the stories behind the faces and locations. They published 156 of the Oneida photographs in a book, Dawn Comes to the Mountains (Louisville, Ky.: George Rogers Clark Press, 1981), before transferring the rights for Matlack's Kentucky collection to the University of Louisville Photographic Archives in 1982.

The Claude C. Matlack Collection, accession number 1982.01 in the Photographic Archives, University of Louisville (Louisville, Kentucky, 40292), includes 232 negatives and 672 original prints with 668 distinct images in the physical collection. About two-thirds of both items and images are associated with Oneida and Clay County. This digital collection contains scans of 45 negatives and 623 original prints. Every image in the physical collection is presented at least once in the digital collection in either print or negative format depending on which was judged to be in better condition. Because two images are combined in a diptych and three others form a panoramic triptych, the digital collection has 665 items.

Please note that Claude Matlack did not take every picture in this collection. At least three bear stamps of other Louisville photography studios (ULPA 1982.01.557.p, 1982.01.558.p, and 1982.01.827.p), and another photograph was attributed to the Hesse studio in an article in The American Magazine in March 1916 (ULPA 1982.01.526.p). Matlack is listed as the collector, but not photographer, on these and other images where there is uncertainty about the identity of the photographer. Before his death, Matlack numbered many of the prints and placed 627 in albums. He also wrote brief descriptions, which have been recorded as titles, for about 208 prints.

Conditions of Use

The University of Louisville welcomes fair use of this website and its contents. If you wish to publish, broadcast, or publicly display these materials, please notify Archives and Special Collections. In addition, it is your responsibility to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions, which may include paying fees for commercial use. For further information about permissions, use, and ordering reproductions, see Order Reproductions, or contact Archives and Special Collections, University of Louisville.

To cite an image from this collection, please use the format:

[Image Number], Claude C. Matlack Collection, 1982.01, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.

To cite the digital version, add its Reference URL (found by following the link in the header above the digital file).


As noted above, Samuel W. Thomas of The George Rogers Clark Press Inc. extensively researched Oneida Baptist Institute and its faculty and students during the 1903-1916 time period. His research notes and book, Dawn Comes to the Mountains, were principal sources for the Oneida photograph descriptions.

Since the Claude C. Matlack Collection was donated to the University of Louisville Photographic Archives, many faculty, staff, students, and volunteers have contributed to its preservation and documentation.

In 1982, archivists at Berea College's Hutchins Library copied 401 select negatives and prints from the Matlack collection as part of the Settlement Institutions of Appalachia/Berea College Research Resources Project, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. They also prepared a finding aid with primary and secondary subject headings plus estimated date of creation for each of the 401 photographs.

Rachel I. Howard and Susan M. Knoer began the process of adding subject terms from the Thesaurus for Graphic Materials (TGM-I) to the records. Susan Finley conducted additional research to identify names, locations, dates and subject terms for all 664 images and standardized metadata for the entire collection, and uploaded them into CONTENTdm Digital Collection Management Software version 4.2. Metadata was created in accordance with the University of Louisville Digital Initiatives data dictionary (PDF). Titles supplied by the cataloger have been noted in the Description field.

The images were scanned as 600 ppi TIFFs in 8-bit grayscale on a Microtek flatbed scanner by Rachael Elrod, Courtney Hughes and Bill Carner in 2006-2007. Rachel I. Howard converted the TIFF images to JPEGs of "maximum" quality resized to 600 pixels in the longest dimension using IrfanView version 3.99.

Terri L. Holtze designed the web pages.

Susan Finley wrote the text. Dwayne K. Buttler, J.D., provided copyright advice.

Select the collections to add or remove from your search