We can all agree that graphic design and illustration was a male dominated profession at the outset. Or can we? Volume 1 of Advertising Arts & Crafts, Eastern Edition (Lee & Kirby, New York, 1926), a 446 page index of hundreds of designers and illustrators from Chicago, Boston and New York, listed close to 30 percent women. On the “General Listings” “W” page alone there is Clara Elsene Williams, Lorena Wilson, Regina A. Wineburgh, Mrs. Earle B. Winslow, Alice Beach Winter, Aage M. Wise, and Elizabeth Tyler Wolcott. And that’s only one page of “W”s. There’s also Evelyn Wilber, Anita Wilcox, and Florence R.A. Wilde on another.
A healthy number of women were letterers, poster designers, fashion illustrators, editorial illustrators, layout artists, retouchers, and some did “Allegorical, Figure, Heads, Historical Subjects, Portrait, Black and White, Charcoal, Color, Crayon, Oil and Scratch board.” Some were anonymous but many signed their work.
So, where are these women in the history books … or in the cannon itself? Women began to make their names known in the late 1950s but only in the 1980s do they break the gender barrier. Still, who is to say that these women who advertised their talents in AA&C are not deserving of a place in Meggs’, Hollis’ or all the other recent history texts?
The excuse has long been that women did not promote themselves or get promoted. They did their work, went home at night and took care of the family. Well, these promotional ads (below) by only a few of the women represented in AA&C just may have been originators not followers. They may also be the lost women of graphic design history.
For more Steven Heller, check out Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility‚ one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.