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American Women: Resources from the Prints & Photographs Collections

Cabinet of American Illustration

Drawings and sketches in the Cabinet of American Illustration (4,000 drawings, 1845-present) afford you the opportunity to examine images produced as illustrations for American books and magazines.

Charles Dana Gibson, artist. The weaker sex. II. 1903. Cabinet of American Illustration. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Depictions of Women

Researchers can explore how artists drawing for American publications presented women of many classes and walks of life. The collection includes, for instance, many of Charles Dana Gibson's original drawings from the turn of the twentieth century, including his sketches of “Gibson girls,” which have been credited with influencing his generation's vision of the ideal woman. While accenting her sinuous beauty, Gibson frequently presented the Gibson girl in situations that conveyed a sense of humor or even irony. The artist's satirical style is particularly apparent in sampling some of his other sketches, such as “Studies in Expression: When Women Are Jurors,” which places women of differing ages and economic status side by side in the jury box (see sample images below)

Drawings by other artists from the golden age of American illustration, 1880-1930, provide additional visions of women as idealized beauties, as African American “mammies,” as courting young women, and more rarely, as workers. In this way, the collection provides a sampling of the range of images of American womanhood that popular literature presented to its readers.

Women Artists

Rose Cecil O'Neill, artist, Woman's tact. 1901? Cabinet of American Illustration. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

In addition to exploring how women were represented in illustrations, you can tap the collection to examine the work of such women illustrators as Alice Barber Stephens (1858-1932), Charlotte Harding (1873-1951), Elizabeth Shippen Green Elliott (1871-1954), and Rose O'Neill (1874-1944)—artists whose images and pioneering careers merit exploration.

O'Neill, for instance, was one of the few women to achieve marked financial success and professional independence in early-twentieth-century cartooning. Her work was published in top humorous periodicals of the day, including Puck, Judge, and Life, many of which had largely male readerships. O'Neill also introduced readers of the Ladies' Home Journal to “The Kewpies,” cherubic characters that soon became a national craze, generating lucrative “spin-offs” in the form of dolls and other merchandise as well as a syndicated comic strip.

Searching the Collection

Catalog records for all the illustrations can be found in the online catalog, where the Cabinet of American Illustration has its own listing. Digitized images accompany most records.

Catalog records for items in the Cabinet of American Illustration frequently include a citation for the published work in which the drawing eventually appeared. This documentation provides a starting point for examining how images were integrated with text and, possibly, how the artist's original conception underwent alteration in later publication stages.

Catalog records also frequently include the names of the authors of those textual works, many of whom were women, opening the possibility of exploring dynamics between authors of texts and creators of images.

The digital images for this collection act as a reference surrogate. Some original drawings cannot be served because of their fragility.

For Further Information

Sample Images