Title: Rose O'Neill: The Girl Who Loved to Draw
Author: Linda Brewster
Publisher: Boxing Day Books
Concepts: poverty, scarcity, barter, child schooling and work, jobs, entrepreneurs
Review: Rose O'Neill, the first woman comic artist in the United States, enjoyed tremendous success during her professional career and became one of the most highly paid artists of the early 1900s. This success, however, came on the back of considerable economic hardship and personal challenges during her childhood. Her parents loved the arts and had an enormous collection of artwork and books, but her father had trouble with financial planning, and on multiple occasions during Rose's childhood his inability to pay the bills led to the loss of his business and the family home.
Rose's first family move was probably the most severe, entailing a three-month long wagon ride from their comfortable home in Pennsylvania to a one-room sod house with an earth floor and a tarpaper roof in Nebraska. The family used stacked books and wooden boards to make furniture and, until they could afford a pot-bellied stove several weeks later, had to cook their food outside on an open fire. Rose's father traded books and some livestock for supplies, and ultimately Rose's mother took on a job teaching in the next town to help support the growing family. Despite the constant lack of money, threadbare clothes, frequent moves, and a late start with formal schooling, Rose had a happy childhood, and her natural talents in the arts thrived under the tutelage of both her parents.
Access to reams of books with art and literature led to plentiful opportunities for learning by doing, as did the succession of younger siblings who served as models for her drawings of babies. This self-training ultimately led Rose as an adult to create the cupid-like Kewpie cartoon characters and porcelain dolls for which she became most famous. This impressive book, as rich in artistic content as it is in historical narrative, provides a valuable opportunity to see how economic challenges helped to shape the career progression of a talented artist and entrepreneur.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children