llustrator, Author, and Business Woman
Rose O'Neill, illustrator, author and business woman, was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. At age 13, O'Neill entered and won an art contest held by the Omaha World Herald paper with a drawing, "Temptation Leading Down into an Abyss" which astounded the judges. The Herald hired her for weekly cartoons and poetry.
In 1893, she went to New York City to sell her works in a larger market. With the income from selling illustrations to many periodicals and books, including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Truth, Ladies' Home Journal, and Puck, she helped to support her large family. The women in O'Neill's illustrations have been described as "refreshingly independent, able-minded, confident, modern and strong-willed.” In 1904 she wrote and illustrated a novel, The Loves of Edwy.
O'Neill later created the Kewpie character, which first appeared in 1909 in her illustrated poems for the Ladies' Home Journal. She also wrote and illustrated eight children's books featuring Kewpies from 1912 to 1936. Kewpie comics appeared in newspapers during those years, and O'Neill became one of the first female cartoonists in America. In 1912, she patented the Kewpie doll. Sales of the Kewpie dolls, salt and pepper shakers, soap, and other Kewpie doll related items netted more than $1,500,000.
Ignoring publicized criticism of her association with the Women's Movement, O'Neill utilized the immense popularity of the Kewpie character to endorse and garner attention to her favorite political causes which included woman suffrage. The National Woman Suffrage Association distributed postcards and posters that utilized her Kewpie and artistic illustrations. A Los Angeles Tribune article reported, "The most celebrated of America's black-and-white artists, Rose O'Neill, creator of ‘The Kewpies,’ is an ardent suffragist and an active member of the Press and Publicity Council of New York City. To aid in their campaign for 'Votes for Women Nov 2', she has just designed and donated to them the striking poster here reproduced." The poster represented O'Neill's vision of the New Woman and the liberated New Man.
Dress reform was another of Rose O'Neill's causes. Her innovative fashion drawing depicted feminine, flowing, silky trousers that were covered with a tunic. O'Neill explained, "It is quite time that a decisive stroke was struck for the freedom of women, not only as regards to the suffrage question, and of course, I am very keen on that, but on other matters. The first step is to free women from the yoke of modern fashions and modern dress. How can they hope to compete with men when they are boxed up tight in the clothes that are worn today?”
Rose O'Neill's art career gained credibility when she held three exhibits of her serious art in Paris, France. Her art was exhibited at the Societe des Beaux Attes in 1906 and 1912. In 1917, she was admitted to the all-male Society of Illustrators in New York City. O'Neill showed 107 drawings and four sculptures at the Galerie Devambez in 1921. She was elected to the Society des Beaux Arts.