Nell Brinkley’s Women, 1913 to 1940

Nell Brinkley's view of a young woman getting a permanent wave, September, 1929.

Nell Brinkley’s view of a young woman getting a permanent wave, September, 1929. From The Brinkley Girls, ed. by Trina Robbins.

I had never heard of illustrator and cartoonist Nell Brinkley until a few weeks ago. However, she was the highly successful creator of many illustrated stories featuring a series of vintage beauties, from the World War I girl she called “Golden Eyes” . . .

"Golden Eyes and Her Hero BIll," No. 1, American Weekly, March 31. 1918. Illus. Nell Brinkley.

“Golden Eyes and Her Hero, Bill,” No. 1, March 31, 1918. Illustrated for American Weekly by Nell Brinkley.

. . . to a series of flappers in the 1920’s . . .

Customers waiting ina hair salon, Sept. 1929. Nell Brinkley illustration from The Brinkley Girls.

Customers waiting in a hair salon, Sept. 1929. Nell Brinkley illustration from The Brinkley Girls. “If permanents were permanent, this picture couldn’t be!”

. . . and illustrations of “real-life” heroines for newspapers in the 1930’s.

Detective Mary A. Shanley captures two armed robbers in NYC, 1937. Drawn by Nell Brinkley. From The Brinkley Girls.

Detective Mary A. Shanley captures two armed robbers in NYC, 1937. Drawn by Nell Brinkley. From The Brinkley Girls.

Brinkley’s illustrations were humorous, romantic, full of flowing lines and brilliant color. And she could draw dogs, too.

Golden Eyes, volunteering as a Red Cross Nurse, finds her wounded lover on the battlefield. January 26. 1919.

Golden Eyes, volunteering as a Red Cross Nurse, finds her wounded lover on the battlefield. January 26, 1919.

Nell Brinkley was so good at drawing flowing, wavy hair styles that she had her own line of hair curlers and wave clips.

Ad for Nell Brinkley Hair Curlers and Bob Wavers. From Nell Brinkley's Girls.

Ad for Nell Brinkley Hair Wavers and Bob Curlers. From the book The Brinkley Girls.

One of her flapper heroines, Prudence Prim, was sent to live with her aunts, who unwisely allowed her to buy a new wardrobe and charge it to them.

"Our Prudence chose a French Maison, the best and most select...." Nell Brinkley for American Weekly, Nov. 15, 1925.

“Our Prudence chose a French Maison, the best and most select….” Nell Brinkley for American Weekly, Nov. 15, 1925.

The verses accompanying the illustrations (one page told a whole story) were by Carolyn Wells.

“Our Prudence chose a French Maison, the best and most select. / Her eyes were dazzled by smart hats with plumes and flowers bedecked; / And when she saw the Paris gowns, on models fair and slim, / She forgot her name was Prudence — and she never thought of Prim!”

The story ends with Prudence modeling her new outfits for her aunties . . .

Prudence Prim shows off her new clothes, by Nell Brinkley, Nov. 1925.

Prudence Prim shows off her revealing new clothes, by Nell Brinkley, Nov. 1925. Note the change in skirt length from image 2, top right, to image 5, directly below it.

“One flew into hysterics, and one fainted dead away!”

Prudence Prim shows her aunties her new clothes; they respond ". . . with shrieks of wild dismay." Nov. 1925.

Prudence Prim’s aunties react to her new clothes; “. . . with shrieks of wild dismay.” Nov. 1925.

These illustrations are wildly stylized and not necessarily literal records of real clothes, but there is a great flavor of the period. Prudence and her successors have fabulously long legs, and Miss Prim is anything but prim in her clothing choices.

Prudence Prim at her dressing table, Dec. 6, 1925. Nell Brinkley Illustration.

Prudence Prim at her dressing table, Dec. 6, 1925. Nell Brinkley Illustration. The Brinkley Girls.

Here, wearing a dress sweetly trimmed with roses, she adds embroidered stockings.

"A rose upon her shoulder, and a corresponding rose / Embroidered on the --  well, the shin -- of both her silken hose!" Dec. 1925. Nell Brinkley and Carolyn Wells.

“A rose upon her shoulder, and a corresponding rose / Embroidered on the — well, the shin — of both her silken hose!”  Nell Brinkley and Carolyn Wells. Dec. 1925.

And who wouldn’t want to go hiking in this charming gray and black and white pleated skirt with deco knee socks?

Prudence Prim, "arrayed for mountain climbing" in a kilt, is rescued  from a fall while hiking. Nell Brinkley illustration from Nell Brinkley's Girls.

Prudence Prim, “arrayed for mountain climbing” in a “kilt” is rescued from a fall. Nell Brinkley illustration from The Brinkley Girls.

Later in the 1920’s, Prudence was replaced by Sunny Sue, whose experience at the hair salon had special meaning for me.  (To read more about this kind of permanent wave, click here.)

Sunny Sue gets a permanent wavy, Sept. 14, 1925. Nell Brinkley drawing from Nell Brinkley's Girls.

Sunny Sue gets a permanent wave, Sept. 14, 1929. Nell Brinkley drawing from The Brinkley Girls. “Sue’s fit to be tied — in fact, she’s tied for hours, and her scalp is frilled and fried.”

This is what a hair dryer looked like according to Brinkley:

Under the hair dryer, Sept. 1925. Illust. by Nell Brinkley.

Under the hair dryer, Sept. 1929. Illust. by Nell Brinkley.

“I hope the permanent will live as long, at any rate, / As it took to make it.” There! That’s all — and say it does look great!”

There are at least two books on Nell Brinkley’s work available now.

The Brinkley Girls:  Nell Brinkley’s Cartoons from 1913 to 1940, edited by Trina Robbins, which was my source for all these photos, measures 13 1/4″ by 9 3/4″ and is packed with full color reproductions of Brinkley’s work. Her heroines were not just flappers — some of them travel to exotic times and places. This book ought to be on many people’s wish lists — it’s not cheap, but well-produced. (One caution: because all these illustrations were originally done for newspapers, when they are reduced to fit on the pages of a book, even a big book like this, the print is very tiny. If you give it as a gift, a “magnifying glass” bookmark would be a nice addition.) To read an informative review, click here.  For price information, click here or here.

The other book about Nell Brinkley, also by cartoon historian Trina Robbins,  is called Nell Brinkley and the New Woman in the Early Twentieth Century.  You can see more of Brinkley’s work online at Nell Brinkley Digital Album (click here.) Don’t forget to visit the “Gallery.” Or just search for “Nell Brinkley images.”

You can read more about Nell Brinkley’s life and achievements at the Women in Comics site: click here.

9 Comments

Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Hairstyles, Hosiery, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

9 responses to “Nell Brinkley’s Women, 1913 to 1940

  1. Fascinating! This is all new to me. I am going to check out this book for a better look at those aunties.

  2. Nancy

    Love love love this

  3. love this – the colours are spectaculare also, thank you for the share – rushing off to work but am going to read this again when i am back and will have to check out her works

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