The Red Rose Girls. Part 1. Elizabeth Shippen Green.

In my next series of blogs, I want to look at the lives of three talented women artists – Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley.  These three artists enchanted and fascinated early twentieth century Philadelphia with their brilliant careers and somewhat uncommon lifestyle.  At one time the three women lived together in The Red Rose Inn, a picturesque estate in the affluent Philadelphia suburb of Villanova, a respected area known as the Main Line, an historical and social region of suburban Philadelphia, which was situated along the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s once prestigious Main Line.  The three women were joined by their friend, Henrietta Cozens, who took on the responsibility of managing their communal household.  Their mentor and tutor at the time was the famous American illustrator, Howard Pyle, who, because of their residence, nicknamed them The Red Rose Girls.  The four women forged an intense and emotional bond and vowed to live together for the rest of their lives.  They even adopted and acronymic surname, wanting to be known as the Cogs family – C for Cozens, O for Oakley, G for Green and S for Smith.  In the following blogs, I want to delve into the life of these three women and look at their backgrounds, their works and how they fought their way through a male-orientated world of art.  These three women were to become renowned for their illustrative work.

Red Rose Girls, Pictured left are Violet Oakley, Jesse Willcox Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green (with Henrietta Cozens).

In my next series of five blogs, I want to look at the lives of three talented women artists – Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley.  These three artists enchanted and fascinated early twentieth century Philadelphia with their brilliant careers and somewhat uncommon lifestyle.  At one time the three women lived together in The Red Rose Inn, a picturesque estate in the affluent Philadelphia suburb of Villanova, a respected area known as the Main Line, an historical and social region of suburban Philadelphia, which was situated along the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s once prestigious Main Line.  The three women were joined by their friend, Henrietta Cozens, who took on the responsibility of managing their communal household.  Their mentor and tutor at the time was the famous American illustrator, Howard Pyle, who, because of their residence, nicknamed them The Red Rose Girls.  The four women forged an intense and emotional bond and vowed to live together for the rest of their lives.  They even adopted and acronymic surname, wanting to be known as the Cogs family – C for Cozens, O for Oakley, G for Green and S for Smith.  In the following blogs, I want to delve into the life of these three women and look at their backgrounds, their works and how they fought their way through a male-orientated world of art.  The three women were to become renowned for their illustrative work.

Page from illuminated manuscript

Book illustrations can be traced back to the world of manuscript illuminations.  An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is accompanied with decoration as initials, borders known as marginalia, and miniature illustrations.  The term illumination originally denoted the embellishment of the text of handwritten books with gold or, more rarely, silver, giving the impression that the page had been literally illuminated. 

Biblia Pauperum or Bible of the Poor, woodcut illustrations with manuscript text

Fast forward to the 18th and 19th centuries and the literature of the Western World and the birth of what we now know as the novel, in the form of adult fiction.  

‘Mr Winkle Returns under Extraordinary Circumstances’, etched illustration by Hablot Knight Browne for The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club by Charles Dickens

An example of this are the novels of Charles Dickens and the way in which he would collaborate with book illustrators.  How it worked was Dickens would give the illustrator an outline of the story line before he wrote the text and he carefully scrutinised the drawings to ensure that they complemented his own ideas.  In the case of Dickens, his favoured illustrator was Hablot Knight Browne who worked under the pen name “Phiz”. 

By the end of the twentieth century, Elizabeth Shippen Green, was to become a leading American illustrator.

 Elizabeth Shippen Green

Elisabeth “Bessie” Shippen Green was born into an old well-to-do Philadelphia family, on September 1st 1871.  She was the third child of Jasper Green and Elizabeth Shippen Boude. Her eldest sister died when aged two and, Katherine, her middle sister, was born a year before Elizabeth.  The family lived near the centre of Philadelphia at 1320 Spruce Street.  Although not very wealthy, the Green family had impeccable “old Philadelphia” connections through both the Shippen and Green ancestors and as such Elizabeth was able to access the elite social circles throughout her life.  It was this advantageous aspect of Elizabeth’s life that led her to become easy going and self-confident.  Elizabeth’s parents were determined that their daughters had every possible social advantage in life and to ensure a good start to Elizabeth’s life journey she was sent to private Philadelphia schools.  Initially she was enrolled at Miss Mary Hough’s School and later Miss Gordon’s School.

Jasper Green, Elizabeth’s father at the Red Rose Inn (1904). Elizabeth Shippen Boude, Elizabeth’s mother (1903)

Elizabeth’s father imbued in his daughter a love of art as he was an amateur artist who had studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and during the American Civil War, worked as an illustrator/correspondent for the Harper’s Weekly, an American political magazine based in New York City.   It was said that during her early schooldays Elizabeth took pleasure in illustrating her school notebooks. 

Portrait of the Artist’s Father, Jasper Green by Elizabeth Shippen Green (c.1900)

Elizabeth Shippen Green, self portrait

In October 1889, a month after that first publication of her work she enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  She spent one year in the antique class, where she had to draw from plaster casts, and two years in the life class, working with live models.  During that period her teachers included Thomas Anshutz, Thomas Eakins, and Robert Vonnoh.  Elizabeth graduated from the Academy in 1893 and it was in that year that the Green family suffered a devastating loss.  Elizabeth’s sister, Katherine died on September 1st 1893, aged twenty-three.  This tragic death would haunt Elizabeth every year as it coincided with her birthday.  Elizabeth had now suffered the tragic loss of both of her sisters and one can only imagine the devastation felt by her parents.

Paper Doll Book #2 watercolour and charcoal by Elizabeth Shippen Green (1906)

Once her schooling was completed, eighteen-year-old Elizabeth enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1888.  For Elizabeth the Fine Arts path was not for her as she was interested in her father’s branch of art, that of illustration and, in her father, she had the best illustrations tutor possible.  By the time she was seventeen years-old she had turned a corner of her bedroom into her studio and produced a series of drawings which she managed to sell to the Philadelphia Times and the first of these were printed by the newspaper on her eighteenth birthday.  The drawings accompanied a short but charming rhyme about a child and her doll, entitled, Naughty Lady Jane.   Although this was the only work of prose which she had published, the Philadelphia Times editors recognised her immense talent as an illustrator and in the September 8th 1889 edition of the Philadelphia Times the editor inserted this extended by-line:

“…You will see in another column today some very pretty verses called Naughty Lady Jane accompanied by six exquisite illustrations.  They are the work of Miss Bessie S. Green of Philadelphia who is only eighteen years old.  The lines are unpretending, of course, yet admirably suited to their purpose; but the illustrations show wonderful talent.  Indeed, they would do credit to an artist much older and more experienced than Miss Green…”

Elizabeth (“Bessie”) must have been delighted to have her work published although the payment of 5o cents for a one-column drawing was hardly going to give her financial independence.

Philadelphia Public Ledger

Elizabeth continued working hard and would regularly submit her illustrations to the Philadelphia Public Ledger, a daily Philadelphia newspaper which was, at the time, owned by George William Childs and Anthony J. Drexel.  Elizabeth received many assignments for fashion illustrations from the newspaper.  In 1897, Elizabeth Shippen Green enrolled at the Drexel Institute which had been founded by Anthony J Drexel, a Philadelphia financier and philanthropist in 1891.   He envisioned an institution of higher learning uniquely suited to the needs of a rapidly growing industrial society and of the young men and women seeking their place in it.

Enter Howard Pyle the leading American illustrator of the time and the two other Red Rose Girls…………………………

………………………………to be continued.

 


The information I used for my five blogs about the Red Rose Girls was mostly collected from the excellent book entitled The Red Rose Girls.  An Uncommon Story of Art and Love by Alice A. Carter.  I can highly recommend this biography.  You will not be disappointed.

Author: jonathan5485

Just someone who is interested and loves art. I am neither an artist nor art historian but I am fascinated with the interpretaion and symbolism used in paintings and love to read about the life of the artists and their subjects.

2 thoughts on “The Red Rose Girls. Part 1. Elizabeth Shippen Green.”

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