The American Woman

Female portraiture in America tells a revealing story. It is indicative of deep and difficult questions about equality and identity to which America has yet to find answers. This collection shows a selection of women's portraits listed chronologically. We can see that women were viewed differently (and often conflictingly) at different points in America's history.

We can be fairly certain that Pocahontas did not have this fair a complexion. Obviously there was an ideal of womanhood that artist was portraying.
Here we see a "post-puritan" view of woman. Some frills but very conservative.
This portrayal of Phillis Wheatley displays her as capable and educated; a very interesting perspective for the time period.
This woman is portrayed without much personality. She is an object. Not a sexual object, but a household object.
Here Mrs. Madison is shown as a real character: somewhat less conservative. Although she is delicate, she appears warm and kind.
This portrait of the artist's daughter shows her as intelligent and independent.
Mrs. Mott, a prominent abolitionist and social reformer, is depicted as cold and stern. Her conservative dress indicates her Quaker background and perhaps evokes a grandmotherly ethos.
Here we see Dolley Madison depicted 44 years older. She still carries the same charming smile and warmth. In this portrait, one can see that in her later life, she was revered and loved by the country, perhaps for different reasons than she may have been earlier.
Clad in black, the famous author looks simultaneously demure and sharply intelligent.
Dorothea Dix, an audacious social reformer,is shown with an air of determination.
This specimen differs from most of the previous portraits. It is important to note that it was painted by a woman., Lily Martin Spencer. The title itself is, presumably, a reference to both the girl and the flower in her hand. The portrait depicts a "type" of women of the 1860's. The girl is flirtatious in her pose, facial expression, and dress. The artist seems to say, perhaps with relish, that this "belle of the ball" is an endangered species.
This powerful photo shows a profound and determined Sojourner truth.
Once again we see Mrs. Mott, this time 20 years older and looking even more stern and forbidding.
This painting is interesting as it is not a portrait of one but of three women. There are no men in the frame (and presumably at the beach). While the young women are pretty and well-dressed, they are shown as capable of taking a normal excursion without male company.
In this very impressionistic portrait, the artist portrays herself as beautiful but as having a definite and assertive identity of her own.
It is not as important to know who Juliette was as it is to recognize that in this portait, she is an individual.
Mrs. Davis , although darkly dressed and strongly in her motherly duty, is a real personality.
This stunning photo shows a powerful beauty. Mrs. Wells was a renown and influential journalist
Again a very impressionistic celebration of woman's beauty. The artist seems to look admiringly on the woman who stands out so sharply from her surroundings.
Once again, we see a realistic portrayal of a woman in her role as a mother being capable and independent.
Helen Keller is an ideal for women's empowerment. Here she is shown enjoying the beauty of flowers in spite of her physical limitations. She looks serene and enlightened.
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