This is the last part of the series, “What does a feminist graphic design history in the United States look like? Read Part 3 here, Part 2 here and Part 1 here.
Because the assumption of universal and pseudo-neutral design is ultimately blind to nuances, visual alternatives emerged from countercultures. During the second wave feminism movement in particular, feminist design aimed to engage and connect in an experimental, interdisciplinary, participatory, non-hierarchical and non-authoritarian way, which broke the principles of the existing male value-constructs of “good” design. It is exciting to think of how design could be more egalitarian by discovering these alternative universes with those who were left out of design history.
Faith Ringgold, Woman Freedom Now, 1971, Accessed March 21, 2020: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/202866
This is Part 3 of the series, “What does a feminist graphic design history in the United States look like? Read Part 2 here and Part 1 here.
Early moderns from design reform to new typography created and followed rigid guidelines to define “good” design. When researching women in typography, I found that Elizabeth Friedlander is considered one of the first women to design a typeface, Elizabeth Roman and Italic, commissioned by the Bauer Type Foundry in multiple weights in 1927. In addition, she produced multiple geometric patterned prints and covers for Penguin Books inspired from nature. Just like Friedlander, more women have had their work obscured to put forward those who followed the sacred words of Tschichold.
Elizabeth Colwell, Notes on Hand-lettering, September 1904, Accessed March 14, 2020: http://alphabettenthletter.blogspot.com/2016/03/creator-elizabeth-colwell.html
In 1937, occupied with “proof-reading, folding printed sheets, hounding delinquent clients, [and] writing letters and even introductions to books” in her husband and brother-in-law’s Grabhorn Press, Jane Bissell Grabhorn “suddenly revolted and decided to do some printing of her own and by herself” (Grabhorn “Mea Culpa”). The act of revolt on Grabhorn’s part would become just one instance of many in which she would defy expectations through her printing enterprise, the Jumbo Press, which she operated single-handedly from 1937 until her death in 1973. Employing typography and print to express feminist thought processes in her hand-press productions of satire, wit, and ephemera, Grabhorn exclusively utilized letterpress printing as a place of rebellion. As Grabhorn notes in her 1937 A Typografic Discourse, a piece originally published as part of the volume, Bookmaking on the Distaff Side, her press realizes the ways in which women’s work might reimagine the male-dominated sphere of printing and its influences: “Jumbo stripped the mask from typography’s Medicine-Men and their disciples have seen them as they are: —pompous, tottering pretenders, mouthing conceits and sweating decadence” (8). Grabhorn’s perspectives on the art of printing itself would prove to continually subvert expectations of women’s roles—and more importantly, the increasing relevance of the female printer’s place in printing history.
Jane Grabhorn printing on the Washington hand press, ca. 1945 (Princeton University Libraries)