After suffering a series of tragic losses, Chicago natives Anna and Horatio Spafford led a small American contingent to Jerusalem in 1881 to form a Christian utopian society, the "American Colony." The society engaged in philanthropic work among the people of Jerusalem regardless of religious affiliation, gaining the trust of the local Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities. During and immediately after World War I, the American Colony carried out philanthropic work to alleviate the suffering of the local inhabitants, opening soup kitchens, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable ventures. In addition, members of the Colony were permitted to photograph behind Turkish lines to create a truly unique record of life under the constraints of war.
One such notable photographer of was John D. Whiting, who was also the first child born in the colony. He married the Spaffords’ daughter, Grace. Whiting led a varied and multifaceted professional life in Jerusalem. With his brother-in-law, Frederick Vester, he was a partner and manager of the Vester & Co. – American Colony Store near the Jaffa Gate, where American Colony Photo Department prints, lantern slides and postcard images were sold along with other merchandise. He was involved in starting a short-lived New York City branch of the American Colony Store, which failed due to economic recession. From 1908 to around 1915, Whiting was deputy American consul for Jerusalem, specializing in issues of commerce and agriculture. During World War I, he supplied aid to wounded soldiers as a volunteer with the Turkish Red Crescent and the American Colony Nurses. In 1918 he began service as an intelligence officer for the British Army.
Whiting had widespread knowledge of the landscapes and historic sites of the Middle East. He often guided visitors on tours of Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. He wrote numerous articles for National Geographic magazine illustrated with photographs produced by the American Colony Photo Department and its successor studio, the Matson Photo Service.
The Library is home to Whiting’s papers and a collection of his photographs and photo albums.
Among Whiting’s collegues was Eric Matson, whose photographic archive is also housed in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division.
The Library’s online exhibition on the American Colony offers a glimpse into its history and work.