No More Misses: Barbara Shermund, Flapper Era Cartoonist

This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about extraordinary people whose deaths were not reported in The Times beginning in 1851.

In the mid-1920s, Harold Ross, founder of a new magazine called The New Yorker, sought cartoonists who could create sarcastic, high-level illustrations with witty headlines to serve as social criticism.

He found this talent in Barbara Shermund.

For nearly two decades, well into the 1940s, Shermund helped Ross and his first art editor, Rea Irvin, realize their vision by contributing nearly 600 cartoons and sassy captions in a fresh, feminist voice.

his cartoons She interpreted life with wit, wit and irony, using female characters who criticize patriarchy and celebrate bars, cafes, daring women and entertainment. They spoke directly to the flapping women of the age who challenged convention with a new sense of political, social and economic independence.

“The women of Shermund have spoken out about sex, marriage and society; smoked and drank; and making fun of everything in an age where it was not common to see young women doing this,Caitlin A. McGurk wrote in 2020 For the Art Students League.

In a Shermund cartoon published in The New Yorker in 1928, two lonely women sit and chat on sofas. “Yes,” says one, “I think the best thing to do is to get married and forget about love.”

McGurk, an assistant curator and assistant professor at Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland, said, “While to many, the idea of ​​the New Yorker cartoon evokes the over-the-top, dry, unconventional—often more alienating than familiar—Shermund’s cartoons are the antithesis.” said. Cartoon Library and Museum. “They are about human nature, relationships, youth and age.” (McGurk is writing a book about Shermund.)

Yet in the 1940s and 50s, as America’s post-war focus shifted to home life, Shermund’s feminist voice and cold critique of society fell out of fashion. His last cartoon was published in The New Yorker in 1944, and much of his life and career thereafter remains unclear. No major newspapers wrote about his death in 1978—he was on strike at the time, along with The New York Times, The Daily News, and The New York Post—and his ashes sat in a New Jersey funeral home for nearly 35 years. descendants seeking information about him.

Barbara Shermund was born on June 26, 1899 in San Francisco. His father, Henry Shermund, was an architect; his mother, Fredda Cool, is a sculptor. Barbara showed a knack for painting at an early age, and her family encouraged her to explore her passion. She published her first cartoon in the children’s section of The San Francisco Chronicle when she was 8 years old.

Shermund’s mother died in 1918 in the Spanish flu epidemic. A few years later, his father married a woman 31 years younger than him and eight years younger than Barbara. As his father and new wife continued to start their own families, Barbara distanced themselves from them.

He attended the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) to study printmaking and painting, and regularly wins awards.

He moved to New York in his mid-20s to seek an independent life while pursuing his artistic passions by finding work creating cover art, cartoons and illustrations for magazines such as Esquire, Life and Collier’s.

He is believed to have met Harold Ross and Rea Irvin through mutual connections from his education and the magazine industry. His contributions to The New Yorker included nearly nine cover illustrations, as well as spot illustrations and chapter headlines that helped set the visual tone for the magazine.

His perspective was influenced by its intersection with deep historical moments: In addition to surviving the Spanish flu pandemic, Shermund experienced World War I and the suffrage movement.

In the 1920s, after women’s suffrage, one of his cartoons depicted two men in tuxedos smoking by a large fireplace, while one was captioned, “Well, I guess women are only human after all.”

In 1943 Esquire magazine sent Shermund to the Hollywood set of the musical comedy “Du Barry Was a Lady” to sketch the actresses playing in a scene. “I Love an Esquire Girl” sequence. He also created a promotional poster for the movie starring Red Skelton and Lucille Ball.

She also took ad commissions at a time when women were rare in this industry, and did commercials for companies like Pepsi-Cola, Ponds, Philips 66, and Frigidaire.

From 1944 to 1957 he produced “Shermund’s Sallies,” a collaborative cartoon panel for the Pictorial Review, the arts and entertainment section of Hearst’s many Sunday papers.

Shermund spent her final years drawing and swimming at a nearby beach at her home in Sea Bright, NJ. She died on September 9, 1978, in a nursing home in Middletown, NJ.

His niece, Amanda Gormley, in 2011 decided to research He was surprised to learn that Shermund’s ashes had been left unattended at a New Jersey funeral home since 1978.

In May 2019, Gormley raised money through a GoFundMe campaign and, with contributions from many artists and cartoonists, had Shermund’s ashes buried next to her mother’s grave in San Francisco.

“The women she has drawn and the headlines she has written have shown us women who are not afraid to make fun of men and show us what it’s really like to be a woman,” said Liza Donnelly, cartoonist and writer for The New Yorker. in an interview. “Shermund’s women had humor and courage, just as I imagined the artist himself had.”

Perhaps one of Shermund’s most striking pieces is a testament to his irreverent and fearless spirit in life: A young girl sits on a father figure’s lap and says, “Please tell me a story where the bad girl won!” says.

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