Writers in the 1890s and early 1900s described the “New Woman” as an independent and often well-educated, young woman poised to enjoy a more visible and active role in the public arena than women of preceding generations. They agreed that the Gibson Girl represented the visual ideal of this new phenomenon. During her lengthy popularity, the Gibson Girl appeared in varied guises that highlighted her talents and interests as well as her beauty and social skills. As her star faded, the Gibson Girl’s active, vital persona paved the way for future icons, such as the flapper of the 1920s.
An Athletic Image
This poster advertising the June issue of Scribner’s Magazine highlights the Gibson Girl’s ability to take part in and enjoy strenuous physical activities. Through depictions of young women bicycling, playing tennis and golf, horseback riding, swimming, and the like, Gibson and fellow illustrators helped promote the idea of the athletic girl as fashionable and socially acceptable. The pronounced frontality and symmetry of this design reinforce the visual impression of balance, an essential skill in cycling.
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Back to Nature
With casual grace, two elegantly dressed young women repose on the rocky ledges of a rugged mountainside. The hikers who hail or wave to one another frame the central pair and animate the expansive scene. Gibson’s meticulous depiction of their hats accentuates the Gibson Girls’ stylish attire and visually reinforces the impression of height, leading the eye to the mountains. In this classic, often reproduced image, Gibson shows off the classic Gibson Girl as a figure who embraced outdoor physical activities.
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Honing Her Talent
In addition to physical fitness, Gibson also championed the Gibson Girl’s development of interests and talents in the arts. In this drawing, multiple, heavy lines of pencil in the areas of the violinist’s arms and hands reveal Gibson’s considerable efforts to attain accurate positioning of her hands and arms in the act of playing. He outlines the woman’s figure with spare, bold lines and uses shorter, thinner lines to render her serene face, capturing her absorption in making music. Gibson also depicted young women singing in drawings published by Life in the 1890s.
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Within the servants’ realm, a budding artist pauses in drawing from her model, a visiting policeman. The young woman’s concentration and her bold, cartoonish likeness of her subject play off humorously against his stolid appearance. The scene demonstrates Gibson’s interest in exploring social spheres beyond the upper-middle class and a sympathetic portrayal of artistic aspiration on the part of young women. During the Golden Age of American Illustration (ca. 1880–1930), notable numbers of women successfully pursued careers in the visual arts.
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Reading the Jury
Gibson uses the jury as a device for visual study of women from diverse social backgrounds as they respond to a hypothetical case. He skillfully delineates an array of social types as seen in the wide range of ages, and varied dress and headgear that indicate socioeconomic status. Their expressions run the gamut from skeptical to incredulous to disdainful to pitying. Women hardly ever served on juries in 1902, the year of this drawing, except when called upon to do so in rare cases involving women defendants.
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Revisiting the Jury
In contrast with his 1902 depiction, Gibson’s updated perspective on the jury in this 1927 drawing shows the integration of women with men as participants in civic duty. Despite passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 that qualified women as “electors,” states did not immediately pass legislation to include them for jury selection. Gibson’s drawing of five women and seven men, nonetheless, recognizes that increasing numbers of women were serving as jurors. His parade of “twelve peers good and true” casts amusing and amused looks at the viewer, while demonstrating the artist’s acute, amused observation of the jury.
Called for Jury Duty, 1927. Pen and ink over graphite underdrawing. Published in Life, December 22, 1927. Alternate title inscribed across bottom central margin: “Twelve Peers—Good And True.” Gift of the artist, ca. 1935. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (009.00.00) [LC-DIG-ppmsca-33593]
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