My Twitter feed is kind of a mess lately. Whatever changes Elon Musk has made to the algorithm have resulted in a bunch of posts from randos and brands that don’t seem to bear much relationship to anything I care about. Fortunately, though, a pre-Musk follow of mine that lightens up my timeline continues to break through: Cats of Yore.
The account is exactly what it says it is: pictures of cats of yore. These cats may be in historic paintings, or accompanying a child in early-20th-century New York City. They might play with a ball of string, or wear a top hat. They might be napping or hissing or licking their sibling. One thing they all have in common is extreme cuteness. If you are a cat person, this is enough. And even if you aren’t, this account may just change your mind.
I am a cat person. (I have three rescue cats in a Brooklyn apartment.) So is Molly Hodgdon, who runs Cats of Yore. Hodgdon lives in Vermont and has two cats, Francie and Fergus. After a few months of deriving joy on even the darkest days from Cats of Yore, I reached out to its creator to ask about how she got into the historical 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 Hodgdon: I was raised with cats in the house and never really grew out of that enthusiastic toddler phase where you lose your mind and shriek “KITTY!” when you see one. There’s a reason why they’ve captivated people for thousands of years. They’re so complex and fascinating. They’re elegant but also goofy and undignified. Independent and mysterious, yet so loving and loyal. Soft and comforting, but uncompromising in their personal boundaries. And they walk around on jelly beans, for God’s sake! How could anyone not find that magical?
I hate it when people say things like “happiness is a choice,” because that’s so glib and cruel to those who struggle with stuff like depression or crushing life circumstances. But I do think a lot of people’s lives can be improved by nurturing awareness of all the little wonderful things we tend to take for granted. For me, one of those wonderful things is cats. I’m overjoyed to see Fergus and Francie every morning and so aware of all the ways these funny, comforting, gorgeous little creatures make my life better.
You started “Cats of Yore” on Twitter in May 2021. What gave you the idea?
For years, I saw so many image accounts on Twitter that had great photos, but most of them either didn’t include any credit or would tack on some stupid misinformation. I don’t think most people care about that kind of stuff, but I’m a hopeless stickler about it. I think artists and photographers deserve to be credited when possible and I don’t think there’s any such thing as “harmless” misinformation So while I was getting frustrated with the quality of the image accounts I saw, I was also wishing someone would make an account dedicated to historical cats, and it occurred to me that I should just do it myself rather than pouting about it. At first, it was just for me as a personal repository, but slowly other people discovered it and then there was kind of an explosion of new followers this fall. I think most people are drawn to it for the same reasons I am—it’s partly about seeing pretty cats, but also the feeling of connection to all the people throughout history who have loved cats as much as we do.
In lots of the pictures you post, cats are dressed up, wearing hats, looking fancy. Do you ever dress up your cats?
I am sorry to tell you that I’m pretty much 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 some, because it’s undeniably part of our history with them. My big man Fergus doesn’t mind being dressed up, so I will put sweaters on him a few times a year on holidays, but Francie hates it, so I don’t try. She just slinks along the floor and flops over, obviously miserable. I already have to give them so many medications and various treatments and they’re very good about it. I’m not going to impose on them further just for recreational purposes. You really don’t even need to dress them up anymore anyway! We have filters!
I particularly like the pictures where kids do what their cats do, like slurp milk from a saucer. Do you have favorites?
I posted one from my collection recently that is a good example. It was just a little ginger cat lying in a box with a sunbeam on it. I love the photos that express a pure love of cat-ness, without any additional novelty or embellishment. Someone saw this little guy enjoying the double cat happiness of a sunbeam 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 every household has its own cat vocabulary. I think potatoes took hold with us because they’re cute and round like cats and it’s also just a fundamentally cute and pleasing word. There are also many forms of potatoes, so it’s a great launching point. Small cats can be tater tots or fingerlings, big cats might be super spuds or potato souffles, skinny cats are French fries, etc. We also have a fairly complicated ongoing Nordic noir-type drama revolving around Francie fighting squirrel crime in a place called Potato Bay.
Beyond the delightful photo discoveries, what’s your goal with Cats of Yore?
When 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’ve been able to raise a lot of money for our local shelters and spay/neuter clinics and the idea that I could do more good is really thrilling. And I think that when a lot of people want to adopt, they automatically go straight to the kittens. Kittens are obviously wonderful, but I’d love to get more people to see the joys of adopting adult cats, senior cats, and the ones with special medical or behavioral challenges. A mission that is very special to my heart is debunking myths about a virus called FIV that both of my cats have, and encouraging people to give FIV cats a chance.
Other than that, I like to provide people with a little refuge from doomscrolling. I keep my political beliefs and most current events out of my posts.
I’m hanging out in “wait and see” mode on Twitter. I have this relatively small, curated, happy corner where I will keep posting cats and trying to bring people joy while trying not to obsess about every new story that drops.
Any special cat-related holiday plans?
There was a cool new toy wrapped and ready for them under the tree! There are hundreds of photos of them with the Christmas lights and hunting down the ornaments that Francie knocks down and smacks all over the apartment. But probably the holiday plan I’m most excited about is mailing a check to our local shelter for our Christmas fundraiser, which is over $10,000.