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Rose O'Neill

(1874 Wilkes-Barre, PA - 1944 Springfield, MO)  

O'Neill postcard #1O'Neill will be most remembered for creating the lovable Kewpie doll, a popular favorite of children and adults during the period after World War I through the Depression.  The second of seven children, she was a self-trained artist, winning an art competition for children at the age of thirteen.  Her father, a book dealer, and her mother encouraged her artistic ambitions, which included writing, acting and drawing.  In 1893, she entered the Convent of the Sisters of Saint Regis in New York, and with nuns accompanying her on sales calls, O'Neill's illustrations were soon appearing in magazines like Puck, Truth, Life, and Harper's.  To compete in the male-dominated field, she signed her work with her initials "C. R. O." to conceal the fact that she was a woman.  

In 1896 she left the convent to marry Gray Latham, only to divorce five years later.  Meanwhile, she was producing hundreds of illustrations for magazines and advertisers, like Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Oxydol, Edison Victrolas and Jell-O.  In 1902, she married again, to Harry Leon Wilson, then the literary editor of Puck magazine.  After a stay in Italy to paint and sculpt, she returned in 1908, divorced her husband, and moved to the family home in the Ozarks.  Here, she found inspiration, and in a dream (she claims) the plump little Cupid-like creatures she called Kewpies were born.  They made their first appearance in Women's Home Companion in 1909, and were soon a merchandising machine -- with a headquarters at Rose O'Neill's Kewpie Shop on Madison Avenue in New York.  The song about her (and her apartment), "Rose of Washington Square," was first performed in 1919.  Before winding down her commercial career in 1921, she added postcard illustration to her portfolio in 1915.  In 1921, she bought Carabas Castle in Connecticut, creating a salon for artists and writers, but returned to her family home, Bonniebrook, in the Ozarks before she died in 1944.  

Read a more complete biography at Women Children's Book Illustrators by Denise Ortakales.

O'Neill postcard # 2

O'Neill postcard # 3       O'Neill postcard # 4

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