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.


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.”


Indigo, Cochineal Bugs, Onion Skins, and Pokeberries: The Legacy of Alma Lesch

Bridwell Art Library staff member Kathy Moore reflects on the legacy of renowned fiber artist Alma Lesch and fondly recalls taking her class during her sophomore year at UofL.

Alma Lesch’s connection to UofL is long and storied; during her first stint as a teacher, she joined the Louisville School of Art in 1961, and after that was absorbed by UofL, she became an Adjunct Faculty in the Hite Fine Arts Department (where she founded the Textiles program) until retiring in 1982.  Alma’s second and more famous career took off while she was in her 40s, when she developed fabric collage portraits that were adorned with personal objects, which earned her accolades of Master Craftsman by the American Crafts Council (1974), and The Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in Arts (1987).

Southern Gothic

1973 “Southern Gothic,” 27.5″ x 39″, fabric collage portrait; shown in first World Craft Exhibition, Toronto, Canada 1974, currently on display at Bridwell Art Library, UofL.

Alma Lesch

Alma Lesch workshop “Vegetable Dyeing,” 2nd Southeast Region Workshop, Memphis Academy of Arts, June 9-11, 1967.

My small connection to Alma was in 1976, when I was a sophomore here at UofL. Although my major was Biology, my work-study job was at the Bridwell Art Library, which worked out well since I loved historic costumes and crafts. When I saw a class on Natural Dyes I jumped at it. Held in the 1900 brick building now known as the Honors Overseers House, and taught by Alma, I didn’t know she was already famous, both for her textile arts but as the author of the book we used in class: ‘Vegetable Dyeing: 151 Color Recipes’ (1970). Huge pots full of different plants, mosses, barks and insects boiled on table-top gas burners, while we hand-twisted hanks of yarns into skeins that took on the whole range of colors in the rainbow. Indigo (blue), cochineal bugs (scarlet), onion skins (orange) and pokeberries (pink) all were tried with varying results. It was magic! Alma was patient with our mistakes, but her total focus on the craft and no-nonsense work ethic imbued in all of us a respect for the old timey traditions that were relevant once again, and that sticks with me still.

Vegetable Dyeing

Vegetable Dyeing; 151 color recipes for dyeing yarns and fabrics with natural materials” by Alma Lesch. New York, Watson-Guptill Publications [1970], ISBN: 9780823056002, Art Library Book Stacks  TP 919 .L47.


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.


2020 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon Postponed

We regret to announce our Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon event has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our top priority is the health and safety of our faculty, staff, students, and community. We will keep you informed once the event has been rescheduled.


Judy Chicago – The Dinner Table

The Bridwell Art Library is celebrating Banned Books Week with an artistic spin! Stop by the library to see our book display featuring challenged works of art, pick up coloring sheets and buttons, and share your experiences with censored artwork.

By Trish Blair

This is the story of a feminist dinner party and the brouhaha that surrounded it being seen, and the quest for its permanent home.

In the 1970s, the art world was dominated by old or dead men.  Not seeing herself or other women in that myopic view, Judy Chicago set out to change that.  Created from 1974-1979 she and her band of 400 volunteers created a massive cooperative art installation consisting of a 48-foot equilateral triangular table with 39 place settings of famous women.  Eventually the piece would recognize 999 more women with the addition of a tile floor inscribed with those names in gold. 

The first show opened and was a huge success at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art with over 90,000 people seeing it in its three-month run.  However, subsequent viewings of the show were not in a museum again until 2002.  This was due mostly to the reviews of the shows being described as “failed art”, “crass, and solemn and single-minded.”  The vulvar imagery on the plates along with the ceramics and embroidery techniques involved were thought of as craft-work, vulgar, and radical. 

In 1988 after a decade of touring The Dinner Party needed a permanent home.  Judy Chicago, in 1990, attempted to donate it to the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to anchor a proposed museum in a then empty library.  From there the Washington D.C. political media machine began writing stories that claimed that The Dinner Party “had been banned from several art galleries around the country because it depicts women’s genitalia on plates” and that the “Board of Trustees will spend nearly $1.6 million to acquire and exhibit a piece of controversial art.” This brought the ire of Republican Congressmen who deemed it pornographic and cut 1.6 million dollars from the UDC budget.  The entire cost of the renovation needed to house the piece.  Judy couldn’t take the fighting so she pulled the gift offer. 

Spring forward to 2002 and a wealthy museum donor bought, and gifted the entire piece to the Brooklyn Museum for permanent display.  In 2007 the Dinner Party was opened to the public and has remained there ever since.

Another great thing that came from The Dinner Party was the response from women world-wide who wanted to do something to join the empowerment they felt after viewing it.  Judy and her creative partner Miriam Shapiro decide that women could make triangular shaped quilt panels. The panels, which utilize a wide variety of materials and techniques, were made by different women or groups honoring and addressing individually selected women, women’s organizations, or women’s issues, to expand the number of women honored by Chicago’s The Dinner Party. In the end, 539 panels were made and eventually gifted to the University of Louisville’s Hite Institute from Judy Chicago. 

For more details about the Dinner Party see:

The dinner party : a symbol of our heritage – Art Library Reserves NK4605 .C45

Beyond the flower : the autobiography of a feminist artist – Art Library Reserves N 6537 .C48 A2 1996

Embroidering our heritage : the dinner party needlework – Art Library Reserves NK9106 .C47

https://louisville.edu/art/facilities-resources/international – honor-quilt

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/global-culture/identity-body/identity-body-united-states/a/judy-chicago-the-dinner-party

http://www.judychicago.com/gallery/the-dinner-party/dp-artwork/

http://www.news.artnet.com/exhibitions//the-brooklyn-museum-judy-chicago-dinner-party-1131506www.news.artnet.com/exhibitions/

Quilt
Gallery View: Capturing Women’s History: Quilts, Activism, and Storytelling,
Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville