Women in Graphic Design
There’s much to celebrate for Women’s History Month, and women in graphic design are definitely part of the conversation.
Ethel Reed is considered the first American woman to achieve notoriety in graphic design. Self-taught, Reed received critical acclaim for her work at an early age when she was a highly prolific member of Boston’s artistic community. Posters Reed created during a short, two-year window, earned her international recognition and were widely popular then, and still are now. They feature wonderful examples of Art Nouveau in the cultural context of early twentieth-century Boston. Unfortunately, Reed’s commercial success was short, as she fell prey to issues of alcohol and drug abuse after her marriage crumbled and she spent her final years in poverty before her death in her mid-30s
Design Observer featured “Women in Design History” on their blog this month, celebrating women over the past century who are pioneers, having made significant contributions in the male-dominated field. Designers like Elaine Lustig Cohen, wife of the legendary Alvin Lustig, who took over his studio after his death, and Lucia Eames, the only child of Charles Eames, are featured. Lucia, an artist and designer, also became the preserver of the Eames legacy.
This month’s Design History Society article, “Where are the Women? Gender Disparities in Graphic Design History” discusses how understanding design history is a way to better understand wider gender disparities, including gender pay gap, small numbers of women in senior positions, and talking on stage at industry events. Author Ruth Sykes contends that graphic design history leaves the contribution of female graphic designers under-examined. She thinks that if this were revised, it would be a step in the process of achieving equal industry status for female graphic designers.
The long-standing gender gap rises amid the data revealed in a publication by Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright released last year, “Graphic Designers Surveyed.” The authors found that while women designers are generally better educated than their male counterparts, they are still paid less.
As we celebrate women in history this month, consider how you can help change the legacy of women in graphic design.
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