The following artists constitute a very different breed of American heroes than those we’re used to hearing about. They fought for feminism decades before the term was coined, proving that it’s not just plausible, but necessary, that America’s artistic narrative includes the female voice.
The following 12 women used paint, pen, clay, stone and thread to do their very best to ensure liberty and justice for all. And, for that, we’re eternally grateful. Behold, 12 woman artists of the 19th century who deserve to be on every college art history syllabus.
1. Harriet Hosmer
From: Watertown, Massachusetts
Why we love her: Hosmer is officially known as the first professional woman sculptor. Additionally, she moved from America to Rome at 22 years old and joined an expatriate community of writers and artists, with a prominent circle of independent women.
2. Harriet Powers
From: Clarke County, Georgia
Why we love her: Powers was born a slave, and, throughout her lifetime, translated Bible stories, myths and astronomical events into vibrant quilts using appliqué and piecework techniques. She is remembered as one of the most exceptional 19th century Southern quilters in history.
3. Mary Nimmo Moran
Why we love her: Although born in Scotland, Moran emigrated to Philadelphia at five years old. She kept her gender identity hidden, signing her works “M. Nimmo Moran” to prevent discrimination. She eventually became the only woman fellow of the original London’s Royal Society of Painter-Etchers.
3. Gertrude Käsebier
From: Des Moines, Iowa
Why we love her: Käsebier remains one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, known for her poignant portraits of motherhood and Native Americans. In 1899, one of her prints, titled “The Manger,” sold for $100 — which, surprisingly enough, was the most ever paid for a photograph at that time.
From: Tewa Village, Arizona
Why we love her: Nampeyo, more inspired by earlier 15th-17th century Hopi ceramic tradition than the contemporary pottery trends, created a genre all her own. Called Hopi Revival pottery, she coupled protohistoric pottery from ancient villages with her own personal style. “When I first began to paint, I used to go to the ancient village and pick up pieces of pottery and copy the designs,” Nampeyo said in the 1920s. “That is how I learned to paint. But now, I just close my eyes and see designs and I paint them.”
5. Anne Goldthwaite
From: Montgomery, Alabama
Why we love her: Goldthwaite began running in an artistic circle after meeting Gertrude Stein in Paris. She then became known for her portraits of African Americans and life in the American South. The artist and noted women’s rights advocate was also selected to exhibit her work in the first ever Armory Show in 1913.
6. Elizabeth Shippen Green
From: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Why we love her: Green, who created illustrations for children’s books and magazines beginning at the ripe age of 18 years old, was also a vocal (and visual) proponent of the “New Woman,” an updated model for the educated and modern woman to help overcome the dominant, sexist stereotypes of the time.