5. Sunday School Lesson Cards

Patrick Cox, H-NET President-Elect and Editor's picture

Contributor: Cheryl Thurber

Independant scholar, cultural historian, folklorist, and photographer.


From the 1890s through most of the 20th century Providence Lithograph Company produced the most familiar images for Protestant children and created a shared material culture. Originally designed for small lesson cards, the images were also used on posters, lesson papers, and in books. The Uniform Lesson Plan that originated in the 1870s provided the opportunity for companies such as Providence Lithograph to develop material culture with enormous commercial success and influence. These cards were produced in the millions. While other companies such as David C. Cook Co., and Standard Publishing also created lesson cards, The Providence Lithograph Co. cards were the most widely used.  This is a typical example from 1901. The front included the image and Biblical text. The back of the card could be customized to meet the commentary needs of denominational groups. The Biblical text selected was determined by an interdenominational committee with annual lists. There was great flexibility in images and text interpretation. The greatest period of use for these types of cards was 1890s to 1950s. The size is now more familiar as baseball and other trading cards, but up until the 1950s cards were most common as Sunday School Lesson Cards.