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"I'm Not Bad, I'm Just Drawn That Way"

October 1, 2020 – January 15, 2021

The American Woman in 100 Years of Ephemera

Curated by Marnie Melzer, Florida Atlantic University

Supervised by Karen J. Leader Ph.D., Associate Professor of Art History

“I’m Not Bad, I’m Just Drawn That Way” looks at 100 years of FAU Special Collections ephemera, postcards, and advertisements, to understand how women are drawn. The images collected reflect the spirit of the times, but as we look critically, the cartooning of the female gender is unchanged. The title derives from the character of Jessica Rabbit, from the 1988 live-action animated film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" The curvedly drawn figure is one of those archetypal images like the femme fatale, the teenage sexpot, and the crotchety feminist, all of which outlive centennials. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic recast women in the role of domestic goddess, and fine-tuned our scrutiny of the visual feminine. As we celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage and the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, FAU’s visual archive tells a story of familiar sameness, and this has implications for the feminist movement. The images wake us up to born again American messaging.


Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and letters

Florida Atlantic University

While cataloguing, I contemplated my own defined personas as citizen, lawyer, wife, mother, historian and feminist. And in the words of Linda Nochlin, “Nothing, I think, is more interesting, more poignant and more difficult to seize, than the intersection of self and history.” [1]

[1] Moira Roth, “Of Self and History: Exchanges with Linda Nochlin,” Art Journal Vol. 59, No. 3, 2000, pp. 18-33.

At the Woman’s Club

Puck Magazine was the New Yorker or Daily Show of the late nineteenth century for political satire. Before it supported women’s suffrage, the March 1899 illustration, “At the Woman’s Club” featured an anti-suffrage cartoon as its cover art. Founder Joseph Keppler held the traditional view of the role of women, so his magazine poked fun at suffragists. The fashionable, menswear-clad women, illustrated by Frank A. Nankivell, smoke, drink and joke about a female on female rendezvous as reason for a marital quarrel. One of the ladies holds a newspaper with the word "Freedom" at the top. The dialogue takes place in a progressive-era women’s club. 

Likewise in drag, The Uncle Sam Suffragee postcard uses the inverted iconic symbol of American patriotism to demonstrate anti-suffrage views. Icons carry agency and present current societal dogma. The year was 1909, and it was the golden age of postcards. Dunston-Weiler Lithograph Company, New York, produced a series of twelve postcards warning people about the eroding effect the vote would have on society. Uncle Sam is depicted in drag with his hands on his hips, in a skirt, jacket, bonnet and heels. The image encapsulates the silent fear that American men would become feminized by women’s suffrage. The message: suffrage is a threat to the American masculinity. 

Puck mocks women who engage in dignified or energizing behaviors, like voting, smoking, and wearing pants. The Uncle Sam Suffragee turns the masculine icon on its ear. Both images shame the suffrage movement by disturbing the classic American trope of manliness.   


There are things we mere mortals associate with gracious living and they include exotic vacations, fancy restaurants, jewelry, dining room linens, tablescapes, home accessories and sterling silver. And you can thank advertising for that. Here, a 1908 comic postcard pokes situational fun at a typical dinner date, where the female in the cartoon accepts her fate. Her role is to accept the “spoon” from the pig-snouted man. To use a spoon means to eat or ingest, but also to “have a cuddle,” as they say in England. For a triple entendre, one could receive the proverbial silver spoon. This postcard was collected by Special Collections as part of its Women’s Collection, and although we do not know much about its publisher, we do know it served a spoonful of topical humor. 

Compare that image to an advertisement 40 years later in Life Magazine, the canon of American culture. In the 1950’s, consumerism spiked, and it became the dream decade for advertising, and also the most sexist. Advertising propaganda was so effective, it actually instructed readers how they should live and what to consume, but through an imagined middle-class white woman’s insecure eyes. In 1948, housewares manufacturer Oneida Ltd. advertised for the product range “Community” fine silverplate. A blonde bride plays house against an infantile pink background. She wears a veil that looks like a baby’s bonnet. Her white teeth remind us that women have been airbrushed long before Photoshop. “Community” is typed in loopy cursive, and it likely confined you to a lonely dining room.

Both women are being paid, and must sing for their supper. The currency is ice cream and silverware.

An Officer but Not a Gentleman 

The first image is a “comic” World War II postcard from 1940’s era, 1 in a series of 9. In 1942, Congress established the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), and 300,000 women volunteered for military service. Back at home more than seven million women joined the eleven million women already in the workforce. American companies used patriotic imagery in postcards and posters as war propaganda, and they sold the link between the home front and the front lines. The neat little house in the postcard makes that visual connection. The bubbly cartoon gals are off to war, wearing rouge. The pro-military message is served with a spoonful of dismissiveness, as if being a female soldier was just a form of adorable new costuming. The caption presupposes a feminine preoccupation with style. Thus, stereotype is essential to the World War II postcard pun. 

In 1976, Life printed an iconic photograph from the moment when women were first inducted into the US Naval Academy. Here, 18 year old Naval Officer Sandra Erwin is the superior Officer to male soldiers. Life pays genuine tribute to Officer Erwin, but the feature has a nuanced stereotype. The cutesy caption reads, “You call this shipshape Mr.?” Her gender makes it appear that she is nitpicking a uniform, even though she is just doing her job.*

Back then, a woman's sexual autonomy was considered transgressive behavior, but the sexual prowess of a male soldier was touted. So, if the image of the female soldier aligned too closely with the likeness of a male soldier, then the constructed American social order could be displaced. These images celebrate military women, but keep the gender lines drawn with the perpetual female focus on fashion. 


*Nitpick - to be concerned with or find fault with insignificant details.

Firmness that Feels Good