The Undimmed Appeal Of The Gibson Girl


Actually, by the turn of the century, the outdoor life was an accepted thing in upper class circles, chiefly along the eastern seaboard. With the exception of bicycling (that great liberator of American women as a whole) most outdoor sports suitable for mixed company began as diversions for the well-to-do and gradually filtered downward in the social scale to become the property of the masses. Public tennis courts and golf courses were many years in the future. The automobile, in its early years, was a rich man’s toy rather than the necessary adjunct of every American family which it is today.

So, when Gibson put a racket or a niblick in his heroine’s graceful hand, he was reflecting the mores of that small sector of the social scene that most interested him. In his preoccupation with romance, he was also quick to see that these games offered ideal situations for unchaperoned but wholly respectable association between the sexes. An afternoon on the links— what an admirable setting for courtship! One of his best-known drawings, entitled “Is A Caddy Always Necessary?” depicts a young couple seated glumly on a bunker, hoping their gangling young club carrier will realize their desire to be alone. One may be assured that even if these goddesses could handily defeat their adoring opponents, they were far too tactful to do so.

Oddly enough, when the Gay Nineties are revived today in revue skit or greeting card, the spectacle bears no resemblance to the Gibson Girl or her circle. All the men have handle-bar moustaches and the girls are made up as Sweet Rosie O’Grady or Mamie O’Rourke. In other words, they are low life. Very merry, very gay, but definitely low life. The Gibson Girl was just as definitely high life. Moreover, whereas these jovial modern revivals from the Bowery are comic valentines, the Gibson Girl defies caricature. The short-haired, short-skirted hoyden of the twenties, the flapper immortalized by John Held, was something of a caricature to begin with. It is almost impossible to exaggerate her. For quite another reason, the Gibson Girl remains as she was created, immaculate and bewitching. To burlesque her would be sacrilege.