Jessie Willcox Smith

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jessie Willcox Smith
Jessie Willcox Smith, photograph estimate 1880-1910.jpg
Born(1863-09-06)September 6, 1863
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedMay 3, 1935(1935-05-03) (aged 71)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Known forIllustrations
MovementThe Golden Age of Illustration
ElectedSociety of Illustrators' Hall of Fame, 1992
Years active1880–1935

Jessie Willcox Smith (September 6, 1863 – May 3, 1935) was an American illustrator during the Golden Age of American illustration.[2] She was considered "one of the greatest pure illustrators".[3] A contributor to books and magazines during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Smith illustrated stories and articles for clients such as Century, Collier's, Leslie's Weekly, Harper's, McClure's, Scribners, and the Ladies' Home Journal. She had an ongoing relationship with Good Housekeeping, which included a long-running Mother Goose series of illustrations and also the creation of all of the Good Housekeeping covers from December 1917 to 1933. Among the more than 60 books that Smith illustrated were Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and An Old-Fashioned Girl, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Evangeline, and Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.

Early life[edit]

Jessie Willcox Smith was born on September 6, 1863, in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the youngest girl born to Charles Henry Smith, an investment broker, and Katherine DeWitt Willcox Smith.[4][5] Jessie attended private elementary schools. At the age of sixteen she was sent to Cincinnati, Ohio, to live with her cousins and finish her education. She trained to be a teacher and taught kindergarten in 1883. However, Smith found that the physical demands of working with children were too strenuous for her.[4][6] Due to back problems, she had difficulty bending down to their level.[5] Persuaded to attend one of her friend's[7] or cousin's art classes, Smith realized she had a talent for drawing.[5][8]


Education and early career[edit]

In 1884[8][9] or 1885,[5] Smith attended the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art and Design)[8] and in 1885 attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia under Thomas Eakins' and Thomas Anshutz' supervision.[5][9][10] It was under Eakins that Smith began to use photography as a resource in her illustrations. Although Eakins' demeanor could be difficult, particularly with female students, he became one of her first major influences.[10] In May 1888, while Smith was still at the Pennsylvania Academy, her illustration Three Little Maidens All in a Row was published in the St. Nicholas Magazine. Illustration was one artistic avenue in which women could make a living at the time.[5] At this time, creating illustrations for children's books or of family life was considered an appropriate career for woman artists because it drew upon maternal instincts. Alternatively, fine art that included life drawing was not considered "ladylike."[11] Illustration partly became viable due to both the improved color printing processes and the resurgence in England of book design.[12]

Smith graduated from PAFA in June 1888.[7] The same year, she was hired for an entry-level position in the advertising department of the Ladies' Home Journal. Smith's responsibilities were finishing rough sketches, designing borders, and preparing advertising art for the magazine.[6][13] In this role, she illustrated the book of poetry New and True: rhymes and rhythms and histories droll for boys and girls from pole to pole (1892) by Mary Wiley Staver.[7]

While at Ladies' Home Journal, Smith enrolled in 1894 in classes taught by Howard Pyle at Drexel Institute, now Drexel University.[5][14] She was in his first class, which was almost 50% female.[13] Pyle pushed many artists of Smith's generation to fight for their right to illustrate for the major publishing houses. He worked especially closely with many artists whom he saw as "gifted". Smith later wrote a speech stating that working with Pyle swept away "all the cobwebs and confusions that so beset the path of the art-student."[15] The speech was later compiled in the 1923 work "Report of the Private View of Exhibition of the Works of Howard Pyle at the Art Alliance".[16] She studied with Pyle through 1897.[17]

Red Rose Girls[edit]

Ivory Soap illustration, 1901

While studying at Drexel, Smith met Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley, who had similar talent and with whom she had mutual interests. They developed a lifelong friendship, sharing a studio on Philadelphia's Chestnut Street and working together.[5] Oakley and Smith illustrated Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Evangeline, published in 1897. Their teacher Howard Pyle helped to secure this first commission for the two artists.[5]

At the turn of the twentieth century, Smith's career flourished. She illustrated a number of books, magazines, and created an advertisement for Ivory soap. Her works were published in Scribner's, Harper's Bazaar, Harper's Weekly, and St. Nicholas Magazine. She won an award for Child Washing.[18] Green, Smith, and Oakley became known as "The Red Rose Girls" after the Red Rose Inn in Villanova, Pennsylvania, where they lived and worked together for four years beginning in the early 1900s.[6][13] They leased the inn, where they were joined by Oakley's mother, Green's parents, and Henrietta Cozens, who managed the gardens and inn.[5] Alice Carter wrote about the women in The Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Love[19] for an exhibition of their work at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Museum Director Laurie Norton Moffatt said, "These women were considered the most influential artists of American domestic life at the turn of the twentieth century. Celebrated in their day, their poetic, idealized images still prevail as archetypes of motherhood and childhood a century later."[11]

Photograph of Violet Oakley and Jessie Willcox Smith facing the camera and Elizabeth Shippen Green and Henrietta Cozens, who are partially hidden, c. 1901, Violet Oakley papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Published in "The Red Rose," Harper's Magazine, 109:501, September 1904.
Elizabeth Shippen Green, Life was made for love and cheer, depicts the artist, Jessie Willcox Smith, Violet Oakley, and other friends at the Red Rose Inn.
Jessie Willcox Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green with Prince the dog in the garden at Cogslea, 1909.

Green and Smith illustrated the calendar, The Child in 1903.[5] Smith exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts that year and won the Mary Smith Prize.[5][20] When the artists lost the lease on the Red Rose Inn in 1904,[5][21] a farmhouse was remodeled by Frank Miles Day for them in West Mount Airy, Philadelphia.[22] They named their new shared home and workplace "Cogslea", drawn from the initials of their surnames and that of Smith's roommate, Henrietta Cozens.[5][21]

New Woman[edit]

A Child's Garden of Verses, 1905

As educational opportunity opened up to women in the later 19th century, women artists joined professional enterprises, and also founded their own art associations. But artwork by 'lady artists' was considered inferior. To help overcome that stereotype women became "increasingly vocal and confident" in promoting their work, as part of the emerging image of the educated, modern and freer "New Woman".[23] Artists "played crucial roles in representing the New Woman, both by drawing images of the icon and exemplifying this emerging type through their own lives."[24]

In the late 19th century and early 20th century about 88% of the subscribers to the 11,000 American magazines and periodicals were women. As more women entered the artistic community, publishers hired women to create illustrations which depicted the world through women's perspectives. Other successful illustrators were Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, Rose O'Neill, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Violet Oakley.[24]

Continued career[edit]

Smith preferred to create illustrations for covers and stories, and also illustrated advertisements,[25] which bore her signature.[26] Smith was particularly known for her illustrations and advertising posters of children and women, which appealed to millions of people.[27]

According to the National Museum of American Illustration, many say Smith is the "greatest children's book illustrator" and her work has been compared to Mary Cassatt's for her endearing portrayal of children.[13]

Smith was a member of Philadelphia's The Plastic Club (founded 1897), established to promote "Art for art's sake" and to provide a means to encourage one another professionally and create opportunities to sell their works.[28][29] Other members included Elenore Abbott, Violet Oakley, and Elizabeth Shippen Green.[28][30] All the women who founded it had been students of Howard Pyle.

In 1903, the Society of Illustrators elected Florence Scovel Shinn and Elizabeth Shippen Green as its first women members. Smith, Oakley, and May Wilson Preston became members the following year.[31] They were associate members until 1920, when they were made full members of the organization.[30]

In 1905 she was one of seven leading artists who contracted to work exclusively for Collier's. The others were Charles Dana Gibson, Maxfield Parrish, A. B. Frost, Frank Xavier Leyendecker, E. W. Kemble, and Frederic Remington.[32]

According to The New York Times in 1910, Smith made about US$12,000 ($376,886 today) per year[33] and, like Norman Rockwell and J. C. Leyendecker, became popular as a "media star".[34]

In 1911 both of her parents and her former teacher and promoter, Howard Pyle, died and Elizabeth Shippen Green married Huger Elliott.[5][35][a] Oakley had a major mural project in the Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg that kept her away from Cogslea for extended periods.[37] Smith had a 16-room house and studio that she called Cogshill built on property near Cogslea. She lived in this house, her final home,[5][38] with Cozens, her aunt, and her brother.[39][b]

The Jessie Willcox Smith Mother Goose, 1914

Over the next several years she continued to create illustrations for magazines, including a series of Mother Goose illustrations printed in Good Housekeeping which were black and white until mid-1914 when they were printed in color. Her illustrations were reproduced in the book The Jessie Willcox Smith Mother Goose by Dodd, Mead, and Company. This book, reflecting her continued theme of mother and child in a realistic portrayal, was a commercial success. Biographer Edward D. Nudelman wrote, "The cover illustration for this book, showing two children nestled beneath the wings of Mother Goose, is one of Smith's most pleasing and warm images. The serenity portrayed in the posture and expression of the children, along with the material concern of Mother Goose, gives evidence of the genius of Smith."[41]

Smith had a knack for painting children, persuasively using milk, cookies and fairy tales to achieve a relaxed, focused, child model. In an October 1917 Good Housekeeping article she wrote that "a child will always look directly at anyone who is telling a story; so while I paint I tell tales marvelous to hear."[42] In 1915 Smith finished one of her most well known work, a series of pictures for Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies.[6][40]

She graced every printed cover of Good Housekeeping from December 1917 through April 1933, creating a total of 184 illustrations of family scenes for the magazine. She is the artist with the longest continuous run of illustrated magazine covers. The magazine said of her, "Certainly no other artist is so fitted to understand us, and to make for us pictures so truly an index to what we are as a magazine are striving for. The holding up to our readers of the highest ideals of the American home, the home with that certain sweet wholesomeness one associates with a sunny living-room—and children."[43]

She was one of the highest paid illustrators of the time, earning over $1,500 per cover.[6][40] Smith also created illustrations for Kodak and Procter & Gamble's Ivory soap over the course of her career.[13][44] She made illustrations for Collier's magazines[45] and of Charles Dickens' works, like Tiny Tim, Dickens' Children – Ten Children, and David Copperfield.[46]

Smith continued to create illustrations throughout her life, but she increased the number of portraits she painted beginning about 1925. She used a technique that she learned from Eakins in these later years, using photographs as a tool when creating portraits.[47]

Artistic style[edit]

Smith's style changed drastically through her life. In the beginning of her career she used dark lined borders to delineate brightly coloured objects and people in a style described as "Japonesque." In later works she softened the lines and colours until they almost disappeared. Smith worked in mixed media: oil, watercolor, pastels, gouache, charcoal, whatever she felt gave her desired effect. She often overlaid oils on charcoal, on a paper whose grain or texture added an important element to the work. Her use of colour was influenced by the French impressionist painters.[5][6]

Most of Smith's work is concerned with children and motherly love. Many reviewers say Smith was continually trying to recreate the image of love she had desperately needed as a child. Smith preferred to use non- professional children as opposed to child actors as models because she found professional children did not have the same soul, or will to explore, as amateur child models. She would invite her friends to visit, and watch their children play, to use as her inspiration.[6]

Death and legacy[edit]

Though never a travel enthusiast, Smith finally agreed to tour Europe in 1933 with Isabel Crowder, who was both Henrietta Cozens' niece and also a nurse.[48] During her trip, her health deteriorated.[5] Smith died in her sleep at her house at Cogshill in 1935 at the age of 71.[49]

In 1936, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts held a memorial retrospective exhibition of her works.[50]

In 1991, Smith became only the second woman to be inducted into The Hall of Fame of the Society of Illustrators. Lorraine Fox (1979) had been the first. Of the small group of women inducted since then, three were the members of The Red Rose Girls: Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green (1994) and Violet Oakley (1996).[11][51]

Smith bequeathed 14 original works to the Library of Congress' "Cabinet of American Illustration" collection to document the Golden age of illustration (1880-1920s).[52][53] Smith's papers are on deposit in the collection of the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution.[54]


Her works are in the collections of the following:


Smith made illustrations for more than 250 periodicals, 200 magazine covers, 60 books, prints, calendars and posters from 1888 to 1932. She also painted portraits. Some of her works are listed below.[9][12]


  • New and True [Poems] – Mary Wiley Staver (Lee & Shepard, 1892)
  • Evangeline: A Tale of AcadieHenry Wadsworth Longfellow (1897)
  • The Young Puritans in Captivity – Mary Prudence Wells Smith (Little, Brown & Co, 1899)
  • Brenda's Summer at RockleyHelen Leah Reed (1901)
  • An Old-Fashioned GirlLouisa May Alcott (1902)
  • The Book of The Child [Short Stories] – Mabel Humphrey (Stokes, 1903)
  • Rhymes of Real Children – Betty Sage (Duffield, 1903)
  • In The Closed RoomFrances Hodgson Burnett (Hodder, 1904)
  • A Child's Garden of VersesRobert Louis Stevenson (Scribner US/Longmans Green UK, 1905)
  • The Bed-Time BookHelen Hay Whitney (Duffield US/Chatto UK, 1907)
  • Dream Blocks – Aileen Cleveland Higgins (Duffield US/Chatto UK, 1908)
  • The Seven Ages of ChildhoodCarolyn Wells (Moffat & Yard, 1909)
  • A Child's Book of Old Verses – Various Poets (Duffield, 1910)
  • The Five Senses – Angela M. Keyes (1911)
  • The Now-a-Days Fairy BookAnna Alice Chapin (1911)
  • A Child's Book of Stories – Penrhyn W. Coussens (1911)
  • Dickens' ChildrenCharles Dickens (Scribner, 1912)
  • Twas The Night Before ChristmasClement Clarke Moore (1912)[63]
  • The Jessie Wilcox Smith Mother Goose (1914)
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott (Little, Brown & Co, 1915)
  • When Christmas Comes Around – Priscilla Underwood (Duffield, 1915)
  • Swift's Premium Calendar (1916)
  • The Water Babies – Charles Kingsley (Dodd, Mead & Co, 1916)[40]
  • The Way to Wonderland – Mary Stewart (Dodd, Mead & Co, 1917)
  • At The Back of The North WindGeorge MacDonald (McKay, 1919)
  • The Princess and the Goblin – George MacDonald (McKay, 1920)
  • HeidiJohanna Spyri (McKay, 1922)
  • Boys and Girls of BooklandNora Archibald Smith (Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, 1923)
  • A Very Little Child's Book of Stories – Ada M. & Eleanor L. Skinner (1923)
  • A Child's Book of Country Stories – Ada M. & Eleanor L. Skinner (Duffield, 1925)


The major magazines that she illustrated include:[5]

  • Saint Nicholas Magazine (1888–1905)
  • Ladies Home Journal (1896–1915)
  • Ladies Home Companion until 1897, name changed to Woman's Home Companion (1896–1920)
  • Collier's (1899–1916)
  • Scribner's Magazine (1900–1937)
  • McClure's Magazine (1903–1909)
  • Good Housekeeping Magazine (1912–1933)



  1. ^ Oakley and Smith never married.[36]
  2. ^ Violet Oakley remained at Cogslea until the 1960s.[22]


  1. ^ "Biography of Jessie Willcox Smith". Penn State University Libraries. Archived from the original on July 20, 2020. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  2. ^ Gloria Nixon (February 1, 2015). Rag Darlings: Dolls From the Feedsack Era. C&T Publishing. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-61745-385-4.
  3. ^ Noah Fleisher (November 12, 2015). Collecting Children's Literature: Books, Artwork, Values. F+W Media, Inc. p. 73. ISBN 978-1-4402-4529-9.
  4. ^ a b Nudelman, 1990, pp. 17, 139.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Illustrators Project, Jessie Willcox Smith biography.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Hamburger, pp. 385+
  7. ^ a b c Nudelman, 1989, p. 12.
  8. ^ a b c Nudelman, 1990, p. 18.
  9. ^ a b c d "Search: Artist – Jessie Willcox Smith". Delaware Art Museum. Archived from the original on January 31, 2020. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  10. ^ a b Nudelman, 1990, p. 19.
  11. ^ a b c "The Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Love". Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc. Retrieved December 26, 2014.
  12. ^ a b Nudelman, 1989, p. 11.
  13. ^ a b c d e "Jessie Willcox Smith: American Imagist". National Museum of American Illustration. Archived from the original on February 4, 2015. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  14. ^ Nudelman, 1990, pp. 21, 139.
  15. ^ Nudelman, 1990, pp. 21–24.
  16. ^ Carter, p. 12.
  17. ^ Nudelman, 1989, p. 13.
  18. ^ Nudelman, 1990, p. 26.
  19. ^ Carter.[full citation needed]
  20. ^ Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1914). Catalogue of the Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture. pp. 10–11.
  21. ^ a b Nudelman, 1990, pp. 10, 34.
  22. ^ a b Keels, Jarvis, p. 80.
  23. ^ Prieto, pp. 145–146.
  24. ^ a b Prieto, pp. 160–161.
  25. ^ Thomson, p. 72.
  26. ^ Thomson, p. 149.
  27. ^ Bogart, pp. 26, 48, 69–70, 141.
  28. ^ a b May, May, and Pyle, p. 89.
  29. ^ The Plastic Club. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Retrieved March 4, 2014.
  30. ^ a b Thomson, p. 154.
  31. ^ Bogart, p. 36.
  32. ^ Thomson, pp. 75, 127.
  33. ^ Bogart, p. 312.
  34. ^ Bogart, p. 23.
  35. ^ Nudelman, 1990, pp. 36–37.
  36. ^ Robbins, p. 36.
  37. ^ Nudelman, 1990, p. 37.
  38. ^ Nudelman, 1990, pp. 34–37, 141.
  39. ^ Nudelman, 1989, p. 19.
  40. ^ a b c d Library of Congress 1999 exhibition of "The Water-Babies"
  41. ^ Nudelman, 1990, pp. 37–38.
  42. ^ Stryker, Smith, Elliot, Oakley, p. 12.
  43. ^ Nudelman, 1990, p. 39.
  44. ^ "Search: Jessie Willcox Smith + Procter & Gamble". Smithsonian Institution Research Information System. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
  45. ^ "Search: Jessie Willcox Smith + Collier's". Smithsonian Institution Research Information System. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
  46. ^ "Search: Jessie Willcox Smith + Charles Dickens". Smithsonian Institution Research Information System. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
  47. ^ Nudelman, 1990, pp. 19, 43.
  48. ^ Nudelman, 1990, pp. 45, 141.
  49. ^ Nudelman, 1990, p. 141.
  50. ^ Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
  51. ^ "Hall of Fame Past Inductees". Society of Illustrators. Archived from the original on November 20, 2014. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  52. ^ "Cabinet of American Illustration". Library of xCongress. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  53. ^ "Search: Jessie Willcox Smith". Library of Congress. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  54. ^ "Jessie Willcox Smith papers, 1901–1931". Smithsonian Institution Research Information System. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
  55. ^ "Brandywine River Museum of Art". Brandywine River Museum of Art. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  56. ^ "Thornton Oakley collection of Howard Pyle and His Students". Free Library of Philadelphia. January 6, 2015.
  57. ^ "Collection". National Museum of American Illustration. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  58. ^ "Jessie Willcox Smith". New York Public Library. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  59. ^ "Collection by Artist: Jessie Willcox Smith". Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  60. ^ "Child in a Blue Suit (Portrait of Henry P. McIlhenny)". Philadelphia Museum of Art. Retrieved January 10, 2015.
  61. ^ "Waterbabies". United States Library of Congress. June 10, 1999. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  62. ^ "Jessie Willcox Smith, Have You a Red Cross Service Flag?". University of Michigan Museum of Art. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  63. ^ Twas the Night before Christmas, Jessie Willcox Smith illustration.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]