The Little Busy Bee
and Sons, ca. 1915.
It has been said that childhood
was the invention of the Victorian era. If that is true, then it can be
said that the Victorians as we know them were a by-product of the industrial
The impact the industrial
revolution has had on publishing, and children’s books in particular, cannot
be stressed enough. Not only did it provide the means, with improved printing
presses and rail system for distribution, but it also provided a market
for the books, a growing and literate middle class, hungry for knowledge
and eager to buy books for their children.
But how does woman fit into
this equation? Let’s first examine the conditions for women in the 19th
century, then the history of illustration as it pertains to children’s
Miss Rumphius, Viking
A Flower Fairy Alphabet,
London, Blackie, 1934
in Victorian England
Drawing and Painting
were considered acceptable pastimes for a young woman, of which one reviewer
of the late 17th-century wrote:
“It demands no sacrifice
of maiden modesty nor of matronly reserve; . . . it does not force her
to stand up to be stared at, commented on, clapped or hissed by a crowded
and unmannered audience, who forget the woman in the artist. It leaves
her, during a great portion of her time at least, beneath the protecting
shelter of her home, beside her own quiet fireside, in the midst of those
who love her and whom she loves.”
During 19th-century in England,
it was customary for an unmarried middle-class woman to seek employment
after the death of her father, or during economic strife. Because of their
station in life, they were not allowed to work in factories or in domestic
service; the role of governess was the only career open for a gentlewoman.
Colleges and Universities started to open their doors to young women in
order to prepare them to be teachers.
In 1768, The Royal Academy,
London’s conservative school of art, opened its doors but it was not until
almost a century later that it admitted its first female student. Even
then, women were not allowed to draw from nude models, not until 1893 when
partially draped female figures were finally allowed. In 1871, Kate
Greenaway, one the first successful female illustrators, attended the
newly founded Slade School because they advertised equal education for
While England was locked
into the Victorian mindset, there was artistic upheaval underway in France
and Europe. No longer enjoying royal patronage, the artists were free to
experiment and experiment they did.
Louis, A Child’s
Garden of Verses,
The Little House,
19th Century American Woman
In colonial America,
out of necessity, women were an integral part to the founding and development
of this country. The lack of women resulted in very few spinsters, and
enhanced their status. Although they still had limited legal rights, they
were allowed to own property and operate their own business. Class and
social status was not a consideration, only one’s abilities, initiative
and resourcefulness mattered.
This limited equality changed
after the Revolutionary War. Growing industrialization and increased wealth
created a large middle-class. There was more leisure time for women and
they aspired to become the “lady of the house”. Magazines like Godey’s
Lady’s Book were mass-circulated and informed women about fashion, entertainment,
morality, and child-rearing. Women became isolated and their homes became
A wake-up call came to women
during the civil war, when again they were called upon to help. They became
nurses tending the wounded, managed plantations and businesses while their
husbands were away, and even worked in munitions plants and mills. Many
of these women continued to work after the war since many of these professions
were now deemed acceptable.
The 20th-century saw one
revolutionary movement evolve after another, each claiming to reject past
traditions. Paris, the center of the art world at this time, gave rise
to Fauvism and Cubism; in Italy it was Futurism; Germany, Expressionism;
and Russia, Constructivism. But America was still locked into a 19th-century
aesthetic. Women from Europe and America flocked to Paris to study art,
most attending the Academie Julien or the Academie Colarossi. Clara
Miller Burd and Elizabeth Orton Jones were
two American illustrators that trained in Paris.
Field, Rachel, Prayers
for a Child, Macmillan,
World War II
|© 20002002 Denise Ortakales
All Illustrations are copyright
by their respective owners.
This page last updated on 24 August 2002.
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