Date of Award
Amid the crowded newsstands of American cities in the late nineteenth century, the average reader flipping through a copy of Puck, a weekly humor magazine devoted to political and social issues, may have been surprised to see an unusual print: that of the President of the United States depicted in women’s clothing, with feminine features, performing a womanly task! These few drawings, alluding to both literary and social ideas, done by the Austrian immigrant artist Joseph Keppler, appeared in his Puck magazine in the years 1877, 1880, and 1884, coinciding around an election year. While Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, and Grover Cleveland, our nineteenth through twenty-second presidents, all received the same treatment at one point or another, it was usually because of a scandal or problems within the presidents’ political party, all of them except Cleveland being Republican. The presidents could not be the only ones to blame. In the time period, there were a number of humor magazines circulating, due to the rise in mass market publication, and Keppler was one of the first and only to take his magazine to such a controversial level. He would not be afraid to step up against the corruption and provide his own opinion through his magazine. Overall, Keppler wished to bring his German artistic history of cartooning and political upbringing into the mainstream of American political culture in order to produce a successful humor magazine.
In order to analyze some of the reasons as to why the presidents were in female garb, potentially an insult, we shall first look at the history of the political cartoon in America, and its specific role in the eyes of political cartoon historian James Fischer. From there, we shall review the political history of the Gilded Age before discussing the rise of humor magazines. After that background, we shall return to Joseph Keppler to look at his upbringing, and then discuss his style of production in his political cartoons. Following the artist’s background, we shall look at the popularity and development of his humor magazine Puck before arriving at the cartoons themselves, looking at their creation from the angle of scandal and discussion on politics and masculinity, key issues of the time period. Finally, we shall conclude by further evaluating, through the light of one imitator, the combined popularity of the jovial Keppler, his cartoons, and magazine on their overall outlook on politics of the late Nineteenth Century, the time period known as the Gilded Age.
Gonzalez, Jerome, "Feminizing Presidents: Joseph Keppler and Gender in Gilded Age Political Cartoons" (2011). American Studies Senior Theses. Paper 10.