History of Children's Book Illustration
and the Role Women Played

Ida R. Outhwaite
Outhwaite, Ida R.,
Bunny and Brownie: the
Adventures of George 
Wiggle, London, A & C
Black, 1930.
After World War II 
The post-war baby boom created an expanded children’s book market, and for the first time, very young children were being recognized with books like Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. More books were needed for the growing school and library market. Graphic Designers like Leo Leonni and Eric Carle began illustrating children’s books. With color pictures in such high demand, illustrators had to learn to pre-separate their artwork in order to keep production costs low. 

The McCarthy era did little to encourage experimentation. The Cold War was felt in the classroom like elsewhere. Books for enjoyment were replaced with didactic material. 

The 1960s brought a change of attitude, namely, diversity. Federal funding for schools and libraries opened the floodgates and encouraged multi-cultural curriculums. Due to the Civil Rights movement, children’s books now included children of all races and social backgrounds. African-American authors and illustrators were starting to be published.

But abortion and new advances in contraceptives brought about a decrease in population during the seventies. Increased availability of illustration programs at colleges and universities resulted in an abundance of illustrators. The next few decades saw publishers that were more concerned with the bottom line rather than the publication of fine children’s literature as many of them merged with each other. 

Helen Moore Sewell
Blue Barns: The Story of
Two Big Geese and
 SevenLittle Ducks,
Macmillan, 1933,
reprinted, 1957.

Henriette W. Le Mair
Milne, A. A., A Gallery of
Children, 1924.
Up to the later part of the 19th century, most illustrators of children’s books were enlisted from the ranks of editorial illustrators, a male dominated field. Yet women, like Kate Greenaway, Jessie Willcox Smith and Beatrix Potter, made a name for themselves illustrating juvenile literature. Working women were starting to be accepted in society, as long as they were single. After the turn of the century, you start to see some married women illustrating books, even some with children.

After WWI, the women’s movement started to make inroads into corporate America. Children’s publishing in particular seemed to welcome women into the fold—women headed children’s libraries, the children’s divisions of publishing houses, they were editors, writers and illustrators.

In an editorial in August 1967 issue of The Horn Book, Ruth Hill Viguers suggested that the reason for this might be because of “women’s age-old inheritance of responsibility for the nurture and care of children.” Most of the women illustrators featured here, whether married with children or spinster, have expressed their love for children, which lends some validity to this thought. Writing and Illustrating also have the added benefit that women can work at home while child-rearing, though that is not always easily accomplished. For me, as I suspect for many other women, it is the ability to combine my artistic abilities with my love of children to produce wonderful books that not only my children can enjoy, but all children for years to come. I can’t think of a more appealing vocation.

Lois Lenski
Cowboy Small, Walck,

Rose Cecile O'Neill
The Kewpie Primer,
Feaver, William, When we were young, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977.
Fine, Elsa Honig,Women and Art, Montclair, New Jersey/London, Allanheld & Schram/Prior, 1978.
Hand, Nancy S., Illustrating Children's Books, New York, Prentice-Hall, 1986.
Hearn, Michael Patrick, Myth, Magic and Mystery, Boulder, Colorado, Rinehart, 1996.
Larson, Judy L., American Illustration 1890-1925, Calgary, Glenbow Museum, 1984.
MacCann, Donnarae and Richard, Olga, The Child's First Books, New York, H. W. Wilson, 1973.
Meyer, Susan E., A Treasury of the Great Children's Book Illustrators, New York, Harry N. Abrams, 1983.
Slatkin, Wendy, Women Artists in History, From Antiquity to the 20th Century, Second Edition, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1990.

Harriet Bennett
Robert Ellice Mack,
Queen of the Meadow,
E.P. Dutton and
Company, ca. 1885.
Women in Victorian England
The 19th Century American Woman
Early Children’s Books
Early Color Printing
Publishing in America
Modern Printing
After the War
The Depression Years
© 2000–2002 Denise Ortakales
All Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page last updated on 24 August, 2002.

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