Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Constructive images: Gender in the political cartoons of the “Masses” (1911–1917)
by Schreiber, Rachel Lynn, Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins University, 2009, 305; 3339885
Abstract (Summary)

The political cartoons of the Masses are constructive images that illuminate new possibilities for gender even while they encode its boundaries and contradictions. The magazine’s artists experimented with new visual forms and worked earnestly to promote their socialist viewpoint on a wide range of contemporary topics. The Masses was a small-run journal from New York City published from 1911 to 1917. Socialist in predilection but not officially an organ of the party, the magazine was idealistic and humorous, literary and journalistic. The Masses was an exceptional publication that assembled an extraordinary group of writers and artists and emphasized the importance of visual communication.

Graphic satire uniquely elucidates the affective significance of historical events, offering a rich source to gender historians. Political cartoons distill political and social ideas into one captioned illustration that usually includes bodies, thereby encapsulating knowledge about gender in provocative ways. The artists of the Masses addressed a range of topics that were salient in their time. During the 1910s American women agitated for labor rights, explored newfound sexual freedoms, and renegotiated their social roles as mothers and as citizens. Meanwhile, American men grappled with shifting ideals of masculinity and their impending involvement in the Great War. By studying the cartoons of the Masses comparatively—alongside illustrations from the mainstream press, other radical publications, advertisements, fine art images, and more—this dissertation gauges the degree of the Masses cartoons’ conformity or departure from other contemporary images.

Ultimately, despite the desire of the artists and editors of the Masses to envision a radically different society, they regularly inscribed the gender conventions of American pre-war society in the pages of the magazine. Nevertheless, the imagery of the publication often elucidates more nuance and complexity to attitudes surrounding gender in this period than has been previously documented. The visual culture of the magazine does not demonstrate full cohesion, exposing the varied meanings that gender can hold. Studying these images reveals tensions in the approach to changing gender roles, and expands the limits of our knowledge of such topics as labor, sexuality, parenthood, citizenship, and the anti-war movement in this era.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ryan, Mary P., Walkowitz, Judith R.
Commitee:
School: The Johns Hopkins University
School Location: United States -- Maryland
Source: DAI-A 69/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: American history, Art history, Gender studies
Keywords: American art, Ashcan School, Gender, Graphic satire, Masses, Political cartoons, Print culture, Visual culture
Publication Number: 3339885
ISBN: 9780549942481
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