Alice Barber Stephens

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"The Nursery" by Alice Barber Stephens. 1898 Ivory Soap advertisement.

Alice Barber Stephens (July 1, 1858 - July 13, 1932) was an American painter and engraver, best remembered for her illustrations.

Early life and education[edit]

She was born on a farm in Salem, New Jersey, and attended local schools. Her Quaker family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and at age 15 she became a student at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art). She entered the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1876, where she studied under Thomas Eakins. She later studied at the Drexel Institute under Howard Pyle, and in Paris at the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi. She exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1887.[1]

New Woman[edit]

As educational opportunities were made more available in the 19th-century, women artists became part of professional enterprises, including founding their own art associations. Artwork made by women was considered to be inferior, and to help overcome that stereotype women became "increasingly vocal and confident" in promoting women's work, and thus became part of the emerging image of the educated, modern and freer "New Woman".[2] Artists then, "played crucial roles in representing the New Woman, both by drawing images of the icon and exemplyfying this emerging type through their own lives."[3]

Late 19th century[edit]

In 1890, she married Charles H. Stephens (1855?-1931), an instructor at PAFA. They had one son, D. Owen Stephens (1894–1937), who also became an artist. The Stephenses had architect Will Price convert a stone barn in the utopian community of Rose Valley, Pennsylvania into "Thunderbird Lodge" (1904), a sprawling house that contained studios for both of them.[4]

Her work regularly appeared in magazines such as Scribner's Monthly, Harper's Weekly, and The Ladies Home Journal.[5] She illustrated books by Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Eliot, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and, notably, the 1903 edition of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.

With artist and educator Emily Sartain, she was one of the founders of The Plastic Club of Philadelphia (1897), the oldest art club for women in continuous existence.[6] At that time, she taught at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women and worked as an illustrator.[7]

Later life and legacy[edit]

Stephens's artistic career spanned 50 years, during which she also lectured, taught, and judged painting and photography. She died at "Thunderbird Lodge" in 1932.

Her papers are in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution.

Selected works[edit]

  • Women's Life Class (circa 1879), Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[8]
  • Engraving of The Chess Players by Thomas Eakins (circa 1880).
  • Engraving of First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes (circa 1880).
  • Illustrations for Sarah Orne Jewett's An Every-Day Girl (1890).[9]
  • Spring Morning in the Park (circa 1890).[10] Exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition.
  • The Germania Orchestra at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1891), Biggs Museum of American Art, Dover, Delaware.[11]
  • Christmas on Fifth Avenue (1896).[12] Currently for sale at Chappell & McCullar Gallery, San Francisco, California.
  • The Nursery (1898), Ivory Soap advertisement.
  • The Piano Lesson (circa 1900).[13]



  1. ^ Alice Barber Stephens from Schwarz Gallery.
  2. ^ Laura R. Prieto. At Home in the Studio: The Professionalization of Women Artists in America. Harvard University Press; 2001. ISBN 978-0-674-00486-3. pp. 145–146.
  3. ^ Laura R. Prieto. At Home in the Studio: The Professionalization of Women Artists in America. Harvard University Press; 2001. ISBN 978-0-674-00486-3. p. 160–161.
  4. ^ Thunderbird Lodge from Rose Valley Museum & Historical Society.
  5. ^ January 1899 cover, Ladies Home Journal from American Gallery.
  6. ^ Alice Barber Stephens from
  7. ^ Dennis P. Doordan (1995). Design History: An Anthology. MIT Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-262-54076-6. 
  8. ^ Women's Life Class from PAFA.
  9. ^ An Every-Day Girl from Coe College.
  10. ^ Alice Barber Stephens from U.S. Women Painters.
  11. ^ Germania Orchestra at PAFA from Biggs Museum.
  12. ^ Christmas on Fifth Avenue from Chappell & McCullar Gallery.
  13. ^ The Piano Lesson from American Gallery.

External links[edit]