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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 and Rose O'Neill chronicled the amusing adventures of children and animals in popular comics that ran for years. Drayton created the wide-eyed, red-cheeked Campbell Kids, who made their debut in Ladies Home Journal in 1909. O'Neill's Kewpies appeared in newspapers in their own Sunday feature from 1917–1918, and from 1934–1937. 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. By the late 1930s, Jackie Ormes and Dale Messick were struggling to have their comics about career-oriented women published. In 1940, when Messick won syndication for Brenda Starr, Reporter, she achieved a milestone, demonstrating that a woman could create a successful adventure strip with a female protagonist.

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