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Exhibition Drawn to Purpose

Early Comics

During the formative years of the American comic strip, leading newspapers competed fiercely to publish the most popular features. Women cartoonists found that they were limited to a narrow range of subjects—babies, cute children, and animals––by their editors, while their male counterparts had a much wider berth. Early comic strip creators Grace Drayton, Rose O’Neill, and Edwina Dumm chronicled the amusing adventures of children and animals in popular comics that ran for years. From about 1917–1920, comics by both female and male cartoonists began to gradually reflect the changing roles of women. Molly the Manicure Girl by Virginia Huget stands out among flapper strips as one that featured a woman at work. Nell Brinkley created such appealing, self-possessed female characters as Golden Eyes in a Sunday panel series, relating her search for the soldier she loves. By the late 1930s, Jackie Ormes and Dale Messick were struggling to have their comics about career-oriented women published in adventure strips. Among assertive female characters in the early comics, Little Lulu endured for decades, well after her creator Marge Henderson Buell delegated drawing and writing to others. Despite early limitations on subjects, gifted, persistent female cartoonists created characters that resonated with readers and achieved staying power.