A Look at the Red Rose Girls

In honor of Labor Day this past Monday, MGHL looks at women’s employment in the early 1900s.

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by Elizabeth Shippen Green, Harper’s, August 1904

Acceptable jobs for women were limited, with many unmarried women taking the standard positions as teachers, nurses, and shopkeepers. Typically, after marrying, women left their jobs to focus on raising families.  The illustrations for fiction stories and advertisements focused on wives, mothers, and children. Many of these illustrations were by women who had chosen art as a career.

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by Jessie Willcox Smith, Collier’s, January 1904

Here is a look at three women who were students of Howard Pyle at Drexel Institute at the turn of the century.  During their studies, all three stayed at the Red Rose Inn, resulting in Pyle naming them the Red Rose Girls.  They all later shared studio space together in Philadelphia, until Green married.  After Green’s husband’s death, she returned to the studio.

Jessie Willcox Smith was a former kindergarten teacher who decided to an pursue art career in the 1890s.  While studying, she took a job at the Ladies Home Journal advertising department.

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by Jessie Willcox Smith, Redbook, 1920

One of her first major clients was Ivory Soap, which featured children as “pure” as the 99% pure soap.  She drew Ivory ads for two decades, and Ivory even offered prints of Smith’s artwork without the advertising text to customers who would send in 10 soap wrappers.

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by Jessie Willcox Smith, Goldilocks, 1907

She also illustrated stories and poems for Century magazine and later became a cover artist for Good Housekeeping.  Smith never married or had children.

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by Violet Oakley, Century, April 1904

Violet Oakley was from a family of artists and was encouraged to make it a career.  Oakley did illustration work for popular magazines including Century, but turned her focus to painting murals.  Another medium she worked in was stained glass, which she also liked to illustrate. Oakley also never married or had children.

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by Elizabeth Shippen Green, from Mind Of A Child, Harpers, December 1906

Elizabeth Shippen Green was also from a family of artists.   In 1901, she signed exclusively with Harper’s and became its first female staffer. In addition to painting women and children, she also illustrated other tales of adventure.

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by Elizabeth Shippen Green , from Buondelmonte, Harper’s, February 1903

Green’s painting style translated to black and white equally as well as color.  She married an architecture professor in 1911, but continue to illustrate under her maiden name.

Information for this blog came from:

  • Kitch, Caroline. The Girl On The Magazine Cover. University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
  • Reed, Walt. The Illustrator In America. The Society of Illustrators, 2001.
  • Elizabeth Shippen Green. Women’s History Month Profiles,  undated.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.