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American Women: Resources from the Prints & Photographs Collections

Cartoon Drawing Collections

The Prints & Photographs Division has long maintained a strong focus on political satire and comic art, in the forms of editorial cartoon and comic strip drawings. Several collections, including the Cartoon Drawings (more than 9,400 drawings, 1794-1994) the Caroline and Erwin Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon (2,000 drawings, 1780-1975), the Herblock Collection (ca. 101,000 items, 1930-2001) and the Art Wood Collection (ca. 36,000 drawings, 1700-2000, bulk 1850-1990) provide an entrée to examining the ways in which cartoon artists used images of women metaphorically to comment on political events and social trends of the day. Women's figures were used prolifically as symbols (Columbia, Dame Democracy), particularly in the 19th century and early 20th century.

Nell Brinkley, artist. Uncle Sam's girl-shower. 1918. Art Wood Collection of Caricature and Cartoon. Prints & Photographs Division

The materials also invite exploration of the humorous, sometimes biting ways in which cartoonists dealt with issues that touched on the rights and status of women, such as suffrage, health issues, participation in sports, and paid (and unpaid) labor. The more than one hundred drawings for the comic strip “Blondie,” for instance, offer evidence of changes—and surprising continuities—in the equality-minded title character's approach to marriage and domestic life between the 1930s and the 1960s. As another example, a number of cartoons by African American artist Oliver Harrington portray black women putting black men in their place, guiding and chiding their children, and serving as symbols in the struggle for racial justice. The drawings thus offer commentary on relationships between the sexes and the generations within the urban African American community, as well as on race relations in general.

The work of male artists predominate in the collections as it did in the publishing realm at large in the 19th and 20th centuries, but Prints & Photographs Division staff have made a concerted effort to collect the work of women cartoonists, as well. Among women artists whose work is represented are: Virginia Huget, Peggy Bacon, Barbara Brandon, Dale Messick, and Nell Brinkley.

As with many of the division's drawings collections, the images and the associated documentation could be used in conjunction with materials available in the Serial and Government Publications Division or in the General Collections to study the editorial and technical practices that newspaper and magazine staffs have employed in reproducing such drawings in their publications.

Searching the Collections

The Cartoon Drawings, Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon, and Herblock Collection can be searched in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, where each has its own separate category. Digitized images accompany many of the online records. Most records include index terms for issues and circumstances of women highlighted by the cartoon (e.g., women's suffrage, single women, women--employment). Women represented as symbols can be found using the name of the symbol (e.g., Columbia); search under the general term allusions or the qualifier symbolic character to retrieve cartoons where the specific symbol wasn't clear or to obtain a more inclusive search result.

The Art Wood collection is in the process of being cataloged and prepared for service; request assistance through Ask a Librarian.

For Further Information

The following three links provide descriptions and search access to three cartoon collection groupings in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.

Sample Images