At the turn of the twentieth century, it was all about Evelyn, Camille, and Irene, the original “Gibson Girls” and the models for the drawings that changed the way America thought about women.
Though the 1890s may seem buttoned up by modern standards, they were anything but. Independent, well-read, and urbane, a new class of woman was emerging in America’s cities.
This “New Woman” did not care to be chaperoned in public. She was athletic and free-spirited. Above all, she was educated, taking advantage of new access to secondary school and college.
Photo: Evelyn Gibson (Getty Images).
She was also scary. By the 1890s, the reform fervor of suffragists and their sisters had ceased to be cute and started to be all too real.
The status quo was being challenged by Progressive politics, new divorce laws, and women who chose to work outside the home.
Charles Dana Gibson, a popular illustrator, looked down on reform zeal in women.
And so he created “the Gibson girl,” a catch-all representation of a kinder, gentler New Woman—one who rode bikes, wore casual clothing, and flaunted her attitude, but was above all beautiful and anonymous.
By the 1910s, to visit Gibson’s office was to push your way through hundreds of gorgeous models with big hair and small waists, each vying for a go as one of Gibson’s girls.