Anne Cleveland and Jean Anderson

Although our class this year has more women than men, in general, I find myself wondering "where are the women in the comic world?!" The books we read about the history of comics are all about men - "The Men of Tomorrow", "Marvel Men", etc. This reminds me of studying Art History in school. Supposedly the only women artists who existed were Georgia O'Keefe and Frida Kahlo.

For comic books, it makes a little more sense. Comic book artists came from the world of science fiction, porn, pulp and misfit geeks and nerds. Guys mostly. But cartoon illustration goes back thousands of years (I've included my notes from class below, if you are interested).

So it was with great excitement that I learned about Anne Cleveland and Jean Anderson - two very successful gag and book cartoonists who met at Vassar College while working as library assistants. Part of my excitement was that my own son is currently AT Vassar right now, but mostly because I love the words "successful, female, artists."

The two ladies drew gag comics depicting the life of Vassar students, then life as a wife and mother.
The books they created were so popular they allowed Jean to pay her tuition at medical school! Despite her success as an artist, her family considered it a waste of her time and talents. She eventually became an OB/GYN in New York City. She was instrumental in making the Lamaze Method an accepted choice and ultimately changing the way women gave birth - and fathers' involvement in the process. She later moved to Massachusetts where she was the first female OB/GYN in the state.

Anne kept busy doing illustration work and was constantly in print. After she married and moved to Japan, she wrote "It's Better With Your Shoes Off" which was published by Charles Tuttle in Vermont. The book was so popular it went through 14 printings!

The down-side to Anne's career was that she was pigeon-holed. First with student life, then domestic life, then travel. She couldn't write or draw about anything else in the male dominated publishing world.

I found one of her books in our library - The Educated Woman - and read it over dinner last night.

Her social commentary is very funny. And I love her drawing style.

Saddest is that many of her observations are still true now. All that money spent and all that education - and we give up our dreams to get married and have babies. Hmmm.

Anyway. Next time I visit my son at Vassar, I will go take a look at the Alumni House and Pub which have framed art and murals by Anne Cleveland. And I would love to find a way into the Vassar Art Library archives to see her original art! It is very exciting and encouraging to find female, artist, role models!


In Comics History class we covered the history of proto-comics, from Ancient Egypt through to Dime Novels and Penny Dreadfuls.

Did you know that the first Crime Comics were drawn in the 1500's as broadsheets illustrating the wrongdoings of criminals and sold at their executions as souvenirs?! There really is nothing new under the sun.

There is a lot of fascinating stuff in here, but my mind had already been blown by all the info about Anne Cleveland. I'll have to read through my notes sometime and look into some of these things more closely. It gives you a new way of looking at the world when you discover that stained glass windows in churches were designed like (comic strips) sequential images, to inform and educate through pictures. They told stories, explained concepts, set rules. Applied cartooning!