Pen-and-ink drawings by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, originally satirizing the upper class, wound up having a profound influence on popular culture in the early 1900s, with both men and women aspiring to become a Gibson Girl or Gibson Man.
The attractive and aloof Gibson Girl, with her impossibly tiny waist, upswept hair and air of serene self-confidence, became an iconic image women wanted to emulate. The Gibson Man was handsome and also self-assured. They were considered the Barbie and Ken dolls of that era, the ideal woman and man.
At that time, artists commonly used illustrated images of society women in cartoons and advertisements, and images of the romanticized Gibson Girl became a fashion style guide for women.
Gibson’s illustrations appeared in many popular magazines, such as Scribner’s, Harpers, Collier’s, and The Century. Through the power of the media and advertising, his drawings became so popular they also appeared on retail items such as wallpaper, china plates, and matchboxes.
Gibson’s work inspired other artists to draw similar portrayals of women. But instead of parodying the socialites, these drawings depicted images of idealized women being sporty and capable, playing golf, riding bikes, and as college students waving university banners and cheering for their schools.
F. Earl Christy of Philadelphia was among many national and international publishers of the College Girl postcards. Christy created a series of cards featuring upper-class women of that era showing allegiance to their schools. In the accompanying image, Christy’s Penn girl wears the University’s red and blue colors. Christy’s postcards were signed by the artist. But some other artists created similar College Girl postcards that were unsigned.
To view more postcards, visit the "Postcards: Penn College Girls" page on the University Archives site at www.archives.upenn.edu.