The Art of Suffrage: Women Cartoonists

Bridwell Art Library employee Trish Blair introduces two female cartoonists for suffrage, and shares how their vision helped most women gain the right to vote.

For women coming of age at the turn of the 20th century there were not many roles outside the home for them to aspire to have. ​But War and other factors led to a surge in women participating in life outside the home; between 1880 and 1910, the number of women employed in the United States increased from 2.6 million to 7.8 million. Yet still most women could not vote in elections. Women began to rise up, and participate in organized protests​, becoming known as ​​suffragists. Merriam-Webster defines suffragist as “a person who advocates suffrage ​(the right to vote).” Suffragists believed in peaceful, constitutional campaign methods; after they failed to make significant progress, a new generation of activists emerged. These women became known as the suffragettes, and they were willing to take direct, militant action for the cause.

One way that women did make a mark in that time-period was in art. Two women made a name for themselves as cartoonists for suffrage, Nina Allender (1872?-1957) and Annie “Lou” Rogers (1879-1952). Women at this time did not have many role models as women had not yet become cartoonists, publicists, or public figures. These women were in a new generation, a transitional generation who with their middle-class, white, protestant upbringing were poised to change their circumstances and the country at large.

Photograph of Lou Rodgers. ca. 1910. Photographer unknown. Wikimedia Commons.

Annie “Lou” Rogers, one of the most prolific suffrage artists, was from a long-established American family in Maine. Her love of drawing took her to the Massachusetts Normal Art School, where she left after failing her first year exams. She “hated the plinths and the dead white casts and the stiff designs for wallpaper.” Rogers prided herself as a self-taught artist.  In 1908 when publications rejected her, she began using the pseudonym Lou Rogers.  Soon she became one of the country’s leading cartoonists with her work appearing in The Judge, Ladies Home Journal, and the New York Tribune.  She also published books, and hosted a radio show in the 1930’s. And little did she know that working at The Judge would change how the world sees women, albeit many years later. While at The Judge, Rogers worked alongside Harry George Peter, who would occasionally create pieces when Rogers was overbooked. Peter was the original artist behind William Moulton Marston’s Wonder Woman. Both Marston and Peter were inspired by the suffrage movement in the creation of the character, and while it cannot be determined whether Peter was influenced directly by Rogers work, it still showed the hallmarks of suffrage artwork.

Cartoon by Nina Allender. Published in The Suffragist. June 6, 1917.

Nina Allender was born in Kansas after her family moved westward from Pennsylvania in the early years of western settlement. Years later, her family would return east to Washington DC. Allender attended the Corcoran School of Art, and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, one of the first art schools to provide professional opportunities for women. She joined the suffrage movement in 1913 when she met Alice Paul. She produced cartoons that showed a new spirit and interpretation of suffrage.  She began working at The Suffragist, a publication of the National Women’s Party. She worked to change the image of suffragettes to stylish young women patiently waiting for their rights—an opposite portrayal by anti-suffrage cartoons that caricatured activists as frumpy and nagging. The Allender Girl was in stark contrast to other depictions of women at that time such as the Gibson Girl, the most popular women’s image of the time by cartoonist Charles Dana Gibson. As a more popular version of the New Woman (i.e. the Suffragette), the Gibson Girl both undermined and sanctioned women’s desires for progressive sociopolitical change.

Informal portrait, Nina E. Allender, full-length, seated at desk, facing left with head turned toward camera, holding a cartoon sketch in her lap. Photograph by Harris & Ewing. Image from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs. Digital ID mnwp.274001.


Announcing the Chalkboard Artist Residency at Bridwell Art Library

“Chalk Artist-in-Residence for Social Justice Wanted” at Bridwell Art Library.

Over the holiday break in 2019, the Bridwell Art Library painted one of its walls with chalkboard paint to give art students a space to decompress, explore their creativity, and have fun. 

When Bridwell opened in January for the spring 2020 semester, employees put out chalk, wrote Welcome Back, and waited to see what happened. While the going was slow at first, eventually new images, words and drawings appeared on the wall and it seemed students were enjoying a new creative venue. Then a global pandemic hit and changed life as everyone knew it.

Another shattering event shook the Louisville community in the killing of Breonna Taylor. Local protests demanding justice prompted much discussion about the injustices that BIPOC (Black and Indigenous folks and People of Color) face living in the United States of America.

“We began to think about how the Art Library could become a part of the solution,” said employee Trish Blair.

With that in mind, Art Library staff went to “injustice square” and other places around downtown to take pictures of the art that people in the Louisville community were making on sidewalks, pieces of plywood, and on the sides of buildings.

“Once President Bendapudi announced the anti-racist agenda for the University of Louisville, the answer was clear: we must strive to become an anti-racist Art Library. We became inspired to use our chalkboard wall to address racism and any other injustices our community may face,” Blair said

The campaign, Chalk Artist-In-Residence for Social Justice, was born. Bridwell Art Library will present a rotating student’s artistic creation that explores social justice themes. The Library will provide the space and the chalk, and students will provide their voices and creativity.

“We are excited to provide a platform for artists to share their thoughts, visions, statements, and creativity to combat these inequalities. We are passionate about social justice and want to be the best library we can be. Libraries are for everyone,” said Courtney Baron, Art Library director.

All students who are interested in sharing their creativity and exploring social justice themes are encouraged to apply to become one of the chalk artists. Visit this link to access the Chalkboard Artist-in-Residence application: https://tinyurl.com/y6j58z5j. Apply by September 28, 2020 to be considered for the residency during the month of October.


Bringing Gender Equity to Wikipedia: Bridwell Art Library Hosts 2020 Louisville Wiki Edit-a-Thon Remotely

Fighting a longstanding gender imbalance on Wikipedia, UofL’s Bridwell Art Library recently hosted the Louisville Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, an event it has staged several times since 2014 to add and improve articles on lesser known female artists.

Enid-yandell-1896

Photo of Edith Yandell. Photographer unknown; 1896 / Public domain.

This year’s event welcomed UofL students, faculty and staff of all gender expressions to edit the site’s articles in a collaborative online setting. Articles on mostly local women artists were improved and edited, including Julie Chen, Ann Stewart Anderson, Adele Brandeis, Marcia Shallcross Hite, Nancy Rexroth, Enid Yandell, and Martha Holmes. Other improvements focused on the local company Hadley Pottery and popular Mexican artist Frida Kahlo

Originally scheduled to be held at the Speed Museum, this year’s event was moved to a remote setting due to COVID-19, and the Art Library plans to host next year’s event at the museum to increase visibility and boost attendance. A small group comprised of UofL staff and faculty met on Teams for two days during two-hour sessions.

“Hosting an event whose aim is to inspire comradery and passion in a remote setting was challenging, but worth it,” said Art Library Director Courtney Baron.

“We can already see the impact our local event has on improving the coverage of women artists on Wikipedia. Perhaps this year the most valuable accomplishment was the transition from an in-person to a virtual event. We were able to accomplish a lot remotely.”

Prior to the Edit-a-thon, Baron and her colleagues, Collections Coordinator Trish Blair and Circulation and Reserves Manager Kathy Moore, created a research guide, with a list of articles that need to be improved.

“There is still a lot of work to do to mend the gender gap on Wikipedia, especially in regards to arts content and editorial representation,” Baron continued. “More women need to be contributing to Wikipedia because their participation has a huge impact on the content.”

While conducting research to create the guide, Baron said “we discovered so many Kentucky women artists who are not featured at all on Wikipedia. This means they are largely unknown outside of our region.”

“Our next step is to create stub articles for these artists that can be expanded at future edit-a-thon events.”

One of the world’s most-visited websites, Wikipedia is maintained and edited by mostly male volunteers, resulting in well-known gender bias. In 2014, the feminist nonprofit Art+Feminism founded a worldwide Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon to encourage women to write new articles and edit existing pages on underrepresented artists.

The Art Library’s past Edit-a-thons have been well attended, open to UofL students, faculty, staff and members of the public of all gender identities and expressions. Participants have created personal accounts on Wikipedia and learned how to edit articles, using library resources to add citations and information to Wikipedia articles on local and regional artists.

“During this year’s event, 12 articles were edited with a total of 70 edits; over 4,200 words and 31 references were added, and two images were uploaded to Wikimedia Commons,” said Baron. “However small, these changes have had a significant impact. In just a few weeks, the articles have been viewed over 159,000 times by Wikipedia readers around the world.”

“We plan to host our 2021 event at the Speed Art Museum and will focus on Kentucky women artists with a focus on community outreach. We hope the location at the Speed means we can reach a broader audience than we would have if we held the event on campus. This is one of the many efforts we are making to increase our collaboration and strengthen our partnership with the Speed Art Museum. The close proximity to the museum – a 5 min walk – in which we can see and interact with works from the Kentucky women artists we are researching and writing about on Wikipedia, is so valuable.”


2020 Virtual Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

2020 Virtual Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the University of Louisville.

Announcing the 2020 Virtual Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon hosted by the University of Louisville Libraries! Please join us as we participate in an international effort to close the gap on Wikipedia articles about underrepresented artists, with a special focus on local and regional women. You will create accounts on Wikipedia, learn how to edit articles, and use library resources to add citations and information to existing articles on your artists.

For more information, visit the 2020 Virtual Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon guide.

Why edit Wikipedia articles on women artists?

Wikimedia’s gender trouble is well-documented. While the reasons for the gender gap are up for debate, the practical effect of this disparity, however, is not. Content is skewed by the lack of female participation. This represents an alarming absence in an increasingly important repository of shared knowledge.

Who can participate?

UofL faculty, staff, and students of all gender identities and expressions are welcome and encouraged to participate.

How do we participate?

Join the first event on Thursday, May 14, 2-4 pm via Microsoft Teams. Join the second event on Thursday, May 21, 2-4 pm via Microsoft Teams. Please share these links with anyone who may be interested in participating in the virtual events. You can come and go as you choose.

What can we expect from a virtual event?

You will research and edit at your own pace. Your camera and microphone should be turned off unless you are speaking.

Is experience editing Wikipedia required?

No! For the editing-averse, we will provide training on Wikipedia basics and assistance throughout the edit-a-thon. If you don’t already have one, register for a Wikipedia account in advance.

Which Wikipedia articles are we editing?

Please bring your ideas for entries that need updating or creation. Work on a topic of your own or choose from the list of suggested articles. Select an artist you can research using online sources.

How do we get information about women artists?

Consult the databases, e-books, and websites listed on the Remote Resources and Services guide to find research to support your article. We recommend starting with Oxford Art Online

This sounds like a lot of work!

You aren’t expected to write an essay on your chosen artist in a two-hour time period! Here are some ideas for quick and easy edits:

  • Add citations and references
  • Add images of the artist or example artworks
  • Link to other articles on Wikipedia
  • Edit text for clarity or copy edits
  • Add bibliographical information for an artist
  • Add a list of works for artists
  • Look at other Wikipedia pages to see what sections they have that you can easily add for your artist

Do you have a question we haven’t answered here? Email artlib@louisville.edu for more information!


Louisville’s Fiber Legend: The Life and Work of Alma Lesch

In honor of Women’s History Month, “Louisville’s Fiber Legend: The Life and Work of Alma Lesch,” is on display at the University of Louisville’s Bridwell Art Library. The exhibit consists of artifacts from the Alma Lesch manuscript collection. The papers in this collection include correspondence with galleries, museums and schools concerning exhibitions and workshops; articles in newspapers and magazines about Alma Lesch; exhibition catalogs which include Lesch’s work; supporting materials for workshops Lesch conducted; publications and newsletters from Shakertown; articles, newspaper clippings and ephemera on various art-related topics; lists of students and other documents from her tenure at UofL.

Alma Wallace Lesch (1917-1999) lived her whole life in Kentucky, and although her career as a working artist started in her 40s, she attained a width and breadth of textile arts that few can attain.

Earning a B.S./Education from Murray State (1941), and a Masters of Education from the University of Louisville (1962), Alma had her first career as a 3rd grade teacher, then taught at Louisville School of Art (1961-1978) and became an Adjunct Faculty at University of Louisville (1975-1982); while at UofL she founded the Textiles Program. She also taught at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and Arrowmont School of Crafts. By 1974, she was named a Master Craftsman by the American Crafts Council, was awarded The Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in Arts in 1987.

Although Alma didn’t start her professional artistic career until the 1960s, her first quilt was started at age 5 and completed at age 12, while learning embroidery and sewing from her mother and grandmother.

Most noted for her innovative fabric portraits made by sewing vintage clothing while adding embellishments that helped describe the person, Alma also worked with quilts, embroidered art, macramé, jewelry made from beads or buttons, collaged textile sculptures, woodcuts, basketry, and glass mosaics.

Alma is also a leading authority on natural dyes, writing several books.

Her works are found in several museums including the Speed Art Museum, Owensboro Museum of Fine Art, Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, the American Crafts Museum of New York, the Arrowmont School in Gatlinburg, and the Flint (Mich.) Institute of Art, as well as the Bridwell Art Library/UofL.

The Louisville Courtier Journal called her the “Undisputed Grande Dame of KY textiles and a pioneer in the National Crafts Movement.” A historical marker is found in her honor in Shepherdsville, KY.


Artist Files and Information Files: a hidden resource revealed

Gail Gilbert
July 15, 2011

If you are trying to find information on local artists, the Artist Files in the Art Library will be a great resource for you.  The Artist Files contain exhibit notices, brochures, articles and ephemera on artists from Kentucky and surrounding states or who have a connection to the region.

For information on art and architecture in Louisville and the surrounding area, use the Information Files which contain articles, brochures and ephemera.  There is a particularly rich section on the art in the Speed Art Museum.  These files will come in very handy if you have an assignment to find information on a work of art in the Speed.

Here’s what the Artist and Information file folders look like:

AF and IF

The Artist Files web page lists the names of the artists who have files. You must come to the Art Library to access the information.

The Information Files web page lists the subject headings of the files. Again, you must come to the library to access the information.

The Artist and Information files are located in the Art Library book stacks by aisle 13.