My Twitter feed has been quite a mess lately. Whatever changes Elon Musk has made to the algorithm has resulted in a ton of posts from randos and brands that don’t seem to care much about anything I care about. Fortunately, a pre-Musk follower of mine who illuminates my timeline keeps breaking through: Cats of yesteryear.
The account is exactly what it says: photos of cats from days gone by. These cats may feature in period paintings or accompany a child in their early 20secentury New York City. They can play with string or wear a top hat. They may take a nap or hiss or lick their sibling. They all have one thing in common: extreme cuteness. If you’re a cat person, this will do. And even if you’re not, this account might change your mind.
I’m a cat person. (I have three rescue cats in a Brooklyn apartment.) Just like Molly Hodgdon, who runs Cats of Yore. Hodgdon lives in Vermont and has two cats, Francie and Fergus. After a few months of enjoying Cats of Yore, even on its darkest days, I reached out to the creator to ask how she got into the historic cat game, her methods, and her own cats. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Hillary Frey: Molly, first tell me about your history with cats.
Molly Hoddon: I grew up with cats in the house and never really grew out of that enthusiastic toddler stage where you go crazy and say “KITTY!” if you see one. There’s a reason they’ve captivated people for thousands of years. They are so complex and fascinating. They are elegant but also goofy and unworthy. Independent and mysterious yet so loving and loyal. Gentle and reassuring but uncompromising in their personal boundaries. And they walk around on jelly beans for God’s sake! How can anyone not find that magical?
I hate it when people say things like “happiness is a choice” because that’s so eloquent and cruel to those who struggle with things like depression or crushing life circumstances. But I do think that many people’s lives can be improved by nurturing awareness of all the little wonderful things we take for granted. For me, cats are one of those great things. I am thrilled to see Fergus and Francie every morning and am so aware of all the ways these funny, comforting, wonderful little creatures enhance my life.
You started “Cats of Yore” on Twitter in May 2021. How did you come up with the idea?
For years I saw so many image accounts on twitter with great pictures but most of them don’t take credit or contain stupid misinformation. I don’t think most people care about that sort of thing, but I’m a hopeless advocate for it. I think artists and photographers deserve to be credited if possible and I don’t think there is such a thing as ‘harmless’ misinformation. account dedicated to historical cats, and it occurred to me that I should just do it myself instead of pouting about it. At first it was just for me as a personal repository, but slowly other people discovered it and then this fall there was a kind of explosion of new followers. I think most people are drawn to it for the same reasons I do: it’s partly about seeing beautiful cats, but also feeling a sense of connection with all the people throughout history who have loved cats as much as we do .
Many of the photos you post have cats dressed up, wearing hats and looking fancy. Do you ever dress up your cats?
I’m sorry to tell you that I’m kind of a bummer when it comes to dressing up cats. I’ve passed on 90 percent of the dressed-up cat photos I’ve seen, but I think it’s still important to include a few because it’s undeniably part of our history with them. My big man Fergus doesn’t mind dressing up so I’ll put sweaters on him a few times a year during holidays, but Francie hates it so I don’t try. She just sneaks across the floor and plops down, obviously miserable. I already have to give them so many medicines and different treatments and they are very good at that. I’m not going to impose them any further, just for recreational purposes. You don’t even have to dress them up anymore! We have filters!
I especially like the pictures of kids doing what their cats do, like slurping milk from a saucer. Do you have favourites?
I recently posted one from my collection, that’s a good example. It was just a little red cat laying in a box with a ray of sunshine on it. I like the photos that express a pure love for cats, without any extra novelty or embellishment. Someone saw this little man enjoying the double feline happiness of a ray of sunshine and a box and they just had to take a picture of the moment.
You often call cats “potato” and “tater tot”. In my house we say “beanie boo” and “floof” depending on the cat. Why potato?
I absolutely love how each household has its own cat vocabulary. I think potatoes have grabbed us because they’re cute and round like cats and it’s also just a fundamentally cute and pleasant word. There are also many varieties of potatoes, so it’s a great starting point. Little cats can be tater tots or fingerlings, big cats can be super pudding or potato soufflés, skinny cats can be chips, etc. We also have a pretty complicated ongoing Norwegian noir type drama where Francie fights the squirrel crime in a place called Potato Bay.
Apart from the wonderful photo discoveries, what’s your goal with Cats of Yore?
As I started gaining more followers, I got really excited about two possibilities: raising money for cat charities and sharing the joy of adopting special needs cats. Over the years I have been able to raise a lot of money for our local shelters and spay/neuter clinics and the idea that I could be doing more good is really exciting. And I think if a lot of people want to adopt, they automatically go straight to the kittens. Kittens are great, of course, but I’d like more people to see the joys of adopting adult cats, senior cats, and cats with special medical or behavioral issues. A mission very close to my heart is to debunk myths about a virus called FIV that both of my cats have, and encourage people to give FIV cats a chance.
Furthermore, I like to offer people a little refuge from doomscrolling. I keep my political beliefs and current events out of my posts.
I hang out in “wait and see” mode on Twitter. I have this relatively small curated happy corner where I will continue to post cats and try to bring joy to people while trying not to get obsessed with every new story that comes out.
Special cat-related vacation plans?
There was a cool new toy wrapped up and ready for them under the tree! There are hundreds of pictures of them with the Christmas lights and chasing the ornaments knocking Francie down and throwing them all over the apartment. But probably the vacation plan I’m most excited about is sending a check to our local shelter our Christmas collectionwhat is over $10,000.