Smith, Jessie Willcox (1863–1935)

During her lifetime, illustrator Jessie Willcox Smith's representations of children made her one of the best-known artists in the United States. From 1917 until 1933, Smith provided the cover illustration for every issue of Good Housekeeping magazine. She was known to her friends as "The Mint" because of the huge sums she commanded in the flourishing field of commercial illustration. Smith's original oil paintings and sketches were also widely exhibited.

Smith was born in Philadelphia in 1863 and did not take up art until she was in her twenties. She had originally trained as a KINDERGARTEN teacher, but in 1885 she enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. After graduation, Smith went to work in the production department of the Ladies Home Journal, making advertising illustrations. In 1894, when the illustrator Howard Pyle began teaching at the Drexel Institute, Smith enrolled in his course. It was here that Smith met her lifelong friends and collaborators Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley. These three women would live and work together for the next fifteen years. Collectively, they became known as the Ladies of the Red Rose.

Smith, Green, and Oakley were encouraged to produce scenes of childhood and maternity, which appealed to the increasingly powerful female consumer. Smith, in particular, was influenced by the tradition of the English illustrator KATE GREENAWAY, who depicted innocent children in nostalgic settings. Smith's first real success came with the publication of the Book of the Child (1903), which was a compilation of calendar illustrations by Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green. That same year, Smith was selected to illustrate Robert Lewis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses (1905). Smith produced more than seven hundred illustrations during her career, and illustrated about sixty books. The most famous is The Jessie Willcox Smith Mother Goose, first published in 1914 and still in print in the early twenty-first century. Smith's favorite works were her illustrations for Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies (1916), which confirmed Smith's vision of childhood as a time of magic and fantasy.

See also: Gutmann, Bessie Pease; ; Victorian Art.


Carter, Alice A. 2000. The Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Love. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Higonnet, Anne. 1998. Pictures of Innocence: The History and Crisis of Ideal Childhood. London: Thames and Hudson.

Nudelman, Edward D. 1989. Jessie Willcox Smith: A Bibliography. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing.

Stryker, Catherine Connell. 1976. The Studios at Cogslea. Wilmington: Delaware Art Museum.