The original Gibson Girls artist was illustrator Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944). He made quite a lucrative career of drawing the “New Woman” of America, with his pen-and-ink images first appearing in magazines like Life and Collier’s Magazines. Soon the drawings were everywhere, setting the standard for beauty, fashion and manners, and earning Gibson great professional and popular success.
Women clamored to be the next Gibson girl model. Gibson’s studio would be overrun with would-be models hoping for their big chance.
Irene Langhorn Gibson – His Wife
Although the Gibson Girls seemed to fit Charles Dana Gibson’s view of a kinder, gentler New Woman, Gibson’s own wife Irene Langhorn Gibson was anything but demure. Irene, who may have been the first Gibson Girls model, was a known suffragette, the chair of the Eastern Women’s Bureau of the Democratic National Committee (in support of Woodrow Wilson’s reelection in 1916) and a champion of philanthropic causes, such as co-founding Big Sisters, helping troubled girls. A feat she could accomplish with her Virginia fortune and can-do attitude.
Models Evelyn Nesbit and Camille Clifford
Gibson’s first and favorite model was Evelyn Nesbit. While sources vary on whether she actually ever sat for Gibson, he could easily have found images of Nesbit in the press. She was involved in a love triangle, where her current husband murdered a former lover.
The most famous of his Nesbit drawings was one where Nesbit’s hair formed a question mark. Gibson entitled that image “The Eternal Question”. It remains one of his most copied and famous illustrations.
Camille Clifford won a contest Gibson ran to find the ideal real-life woman for his stylized sketches. Clifford, with a ridiculously tiny waist, fit the ideal of a woman’s figure with an hourglass figure.
Women as Voters
Gibson’s Girls independence and confidence only went so far. You never saw a Gibson Girl advocating for the right to vote or being involved in social movements. It appears Gibson Girls kept their place.
The Gibson Girls were popular in the 1890s through the early 1900s, ending about the time of World War I as a more independent and socially free icon emerged. The flapper.
Library of Congress Exhibitions: The Gibson Girl’s America.
They Wore What?; The Weird History of Fashion and Beauty; Richard Platt; Oxford University Press, 2007.
Why’d The Wear That?; Fashion as the Mirror of History: Sarah Albee; National Geographic
Glamour Daze The Real Gibson Girls
The Gibson Girl Eyewitness to History, http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2001)
Komal Charania’s video, called Creativity and American Culture: Gibson Girls.