In celebration of Woman’s History month, What’cha Reading presents a brief history and biography of the pioneering women who made great breakthroughs in the field of comic book illustrators and creators, and first made steps into world dominated by men, carving a path for those who followed after.
Rose O’Neill was a midwestern artist, whose father dropped her off in New York City under the care of the St.Regis Nuns. Believing his daughter’s great artistic ability would flourish in the city, he was proven right by Rose receiving multiple illustrator jobs within in days of applying. Rose O’Neill is most widely know as the creator of the Kewpies, the cherub-like dolls that were the height of popularity in the early 1900’s. They first appeared in Ladies Home Journal in December of 1909 in a series of comic strips drawn by O’Neill.
She is also considered one of the New Woman (New Woman – Wikipedia) of the art world, and was at one point the highest paid female illustrator in the world. She had a net worth of over 1.5 Million Dollars (in 1917!), property in Nebraska, Connecticut, New York and Italy and personally oversaw the creation, production and finances of her Kewpie Doll franchise.
Considered a ‘ Queen of Bohemian Society ‘, Rose threw all night artist parties, inviting artists, writers and philosophers to her place in Washington Square to discuss, draw, write and talk all through the night. She was one of the first self made woman to enter the illustration field, and was strong force behind the woman in arts movement of the early 20th century.
An accomplished psychologist, she helped her husband (William Moulton Marston sound familiar?) create the systolic blood pressure machine, used in the lie detector test (another clue!) that has become so common place in our society today. When her husband was contracted to create a new super-hero, he decided he want to go against the norm, and instead of using empty violence and fist-fighting to solve the world’s problems, this hero would lead by example, and use peace and love to accomplish great feats. When he approached his wife with the idea she said “Fine. But let’s have a Superwoman. There is too many men out there! ”
And thus , Wonder Woman was born, complete with truth-compelling lasso and mission to bring peace to man’s world. Elizabeth was another major influence in the burgeoning world of women’s liberation. Undaunted by Harvard’s then anti-women enrollment rules, She instead went to Boston College to be close to her fiancé and continue their work. The husband and wife also opened their relationship to another woman, Olive Byrne. Olive stayed at home and did the majority of child raising for both her and Elizabeth’s children, allowing Elizabeth to continue her career (something pretty much unheard of at the time). The two woman were both the physical inspiration and had aspects of their personalities imbued in William’s creation.
Elizabeth went on to become an editor for both McCall’s Magazine an the Encyclopedia Britannica before becoming an Assistant to the Chief Executive of Metropolitan Life Insurance, a position she held until she retired at 65. A true Wonder Woman, Elizabeth lived to be 100 years, always surrounded by her loved ones
Ruth Atkinson was one of the first women illustrators to work in mainstream comics. She work for Fiction House for a number of years without any credit before finally getting a feature in Wing Comics #42 in 1944, a military air adventure called WingTips.
She continued to draw other military-adventure stories for Fiction House like Clipper Kirk, Suicide Smith and other jungle and western theme books. Less than a year later, she created The character of Patsy Walker in Miss America #2 for Timely (Marvel’s predecessor), which she continued to draw for two years. She also created and drew the first issue of Millie the Model, which went on to run for 207 issues and had four spin-offs. Ruth is also credited with drawing some of the first romance comics in the early 1950’s, like Boy Meets Girl. She retired from comics shortly after her marriage and lived out her life in California.
Stay Tuned for the next installment of Women’s History Month in Comics with Part 2, Silver Foxes of the Silver Age!