"Janitor Sam" Colby University Cabinet Card, Boston, circa late 1880s

Cabinet card vignetted bust portrait of Samuel "Janitor Sam" Osborne of Colby University. H.F. Holland: Boston, Massachusetts, n.d., circa late 1880s. Gilt imprint on recto, with ink identification "Osborne" on image.

Samuel Osborne (1833-1903) was born into slavery and raised on a Virginia plantation, where he married his childhood friend, Maria Iverson. At the close of the Civil War in 1865, Samuel traveled to Maine with two of his daughters, where he landed a job with the Maine Central Railroad. Later that year, with funds raised by Baptist friends, he was able to bring his wife, third daughter, and father to join him in the north. Nearby Colby College hired Samuel's father as its janitor, but upon his passing, offered the job to Samuel. It was in this position that Samuel remained for 37 years and from which he earned the nickname "Janitor Sam."

Samuel was an institution at the college, being featured more than any other subject in the weekly student newspaper, The Colby Echo, during the late 19th century. And it was Samuel's own daughter, Marion Osborne, who became the very first African American woman to graduate from the college in 1900. Samuel passed away in 1904, the year after he retired. His funeral was held in the Colby Chapel and the college bell rang seventy-one times in his honor. 

While there are many seemingly lighthearted anecdotes about Sam's interaction with students at Colby, there is also controversy surrounding his treatment by students and administration alike. For example, it is known that by the year 1896 (after nearly thirty years' service), Sam's annual salary was still a paltry $480. Sam's legacy at the college continues to provoke discussion and change as evidenced by the recent renaming of Colby's president's house to The Osborne House in 2017.


Image and card with some spotting and very light surface soil. Verso with pencil inscriptions including collection numbers/codes. 

Estimate: $400 - $600
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium

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