Thursday, February 14, 2008

"No Girls Allowed"

Because I want for us to understand as much as possible about the dynamics of the illustration business back in those days, and how it has changed (and how perhaps it has not), I felt it would be a missed opportunity if I didn't ask Barbara how she got along as a woman in a male dominated profession. I am grateful for her candid response, so matter-of-fact in tone, revealing some uncomfortable realities for those who did not "fit the mold" of the times:

All of the Cooper artists were pleasant, many were helpful, but none ever asked me to join them for lunch. An interesting aside…a few years ago Jim Bama and I were talking about a similar thing. (Though we’d been completely out of touch, I had written him to congratulate him on being elected to the Illustrator’s hall of Fame and we got to talking.) Jim had not been one of the boys because he was Jewish. I, because I was a woman. He accepted this then and so did I. It wasn’t until twenty years later that I got a little angry about it…in retrospect.

In San Francisco, it was the same. As there was not yet a Society of Illustrators here, I joined the local Advertisers Club, to which most illustrators belonged. I was well known in my field but I felt so out of it at my first meeting, that I didn’t attend another. Even when the SF Society of Illustrators was formed and I knew everyone by reputation, I didn’t become a charter member when asked. Years later I did. By that time, some of my students had become members and I’d hired many members to become teachers for me, I still hadn’t joined. It was silly of me. By the time I joined, out of embarrassment, there were many women in the Society and there no longer seemed to be a 'Good Ol’Boys' atmosphere.

As for prejudice about work..I never felt any. When it came to my portfolio, it spoke for itself. I had a great rep who looked out for me. I had read about women in the 1920’s who were not paid as well as men but I’d never had that problem.

Barbara Bradley received the 2007 Outstanding Educator in the Arts Award from the Society of Illustrators. She is the retired Director of Illustration at the Academy of Art University. The Academy has created a blog, in her honor. She is also the subject of an in-depth interview and related article by Neil Shapiro in the current issue of Illustration magazine.

My Barbara Bradley Flickr set.


  1. This is a great post/series, Leif. It's so good to be reminded of the way things were and how far we've come. Good food for thought!

  2. Anonymous10:38 AM

    Her work is beautiful!!!! Thanks, Leif!!!

  3. Extremely insightful words about life as a female illustrator during that time. How very odd men took a demeaning and pompous attitude towards women illustrators. Call me crazy but one would assume drawing "pretty pictures" was not considered the most macho of career choices by judgmental America of the 1950s, which is what makes it ironic that men chose to make it an exclusive "men's club" type vocation.

    If women and Jews were banned from their lunch tables, I guess an African-American artist like myself could only dream of working for Cooper Studios back then.

    Again, kudos to Mrs. Bradley for being an incredibly talented pioneer.

  4. Fascinating. As a woman and a Jew, I'd have been eating alone in Siberia. And I'm sure it's still happening, if with more subtlety.

    Thanks for presenting this topic, and showing such great work.