Women in the Nineteenth-Century Art World: Schools of Art and Design for Women in London and Philadelphia

Women in the Nineteenth-Century Art World: Schools of Art and Design for Women in London and Philadelphia

Women in the Nineteenth-Century Art World: Schools of Art and Design for Women in London and Philadelphia

Women in the Nineteenth-Century Art World: Schools of Art and Design for Women in London and Philadelphia

Synopsis

A historical perspective on current issues, such as gender and class, is applied to art education and rendered through a study of two institutions, the Female School of Design in London and the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. Sweeping generalizations are avoided as women's history, intertwined with men's, unfolds in two cities on opposite continents. Women's struggles against male domination and prejudice to define art education for themselves for work provides the common theme uniting the social issues explored. Through this unique examination of the relationship between the two schools, women's place in British and American art education is reclaimed.

Excerpt

In 1882 a commencement speaker at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women referred the graduates and their friends and families to Ancient Greece where "among those competing for the prize for poetry stood Corinne, one of the pupils of the school founded by Sapho for the instruction of her sex, in Lesbos, the first of its kind in the [western] world. As she speaks, a solemn silence falls upon the multitude. Does this girl expect to triumph over bards, who have won the consecrated laurel in many a poetic contest?" Corinne does triumph, and she does so to thunderous acclaim. In the histories documented in this book we witness opposition, support, help and hindrance, conflicting and conflicted motives, class consciousness, determination, resignation, and sexism. The women discussed in this book are not so much in the nineteenth-century art world as products of it. In large measure they inhabited different art/craft worlds. There are a few occasions for thunderous acclaim, such as when Fanny McIan stands up to the male managers in London, or when we listen to some of the community-minded and philanthropic citizens who founded and supported the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. Change began, but for many it was neither fast enough nor significant enough to admit women to the art world. Although, through today's eyes, we might offer just mild applause for some of the women and a few of the men who appear in these histories, it is important to document the historical backgrounds and issues in which gendered approaches to art . . .

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