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Drawn from the extensive collection of Christy illustrations in Lafayette’s special collections, the exhibition A Modern Woman: Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Christy Girl at Skillman Library, on view through July 31 in the Simon room, focuses on the development of the Christy Girl when magazine readership was growing across the United States and women’s roles were shifting in new directions.

Carolyn Kitch, associate professor of journalism and director of the mass media and communication program at Temple University, will trace mass media images of women to their historical roots on magazine covers, unveiling the origins of gender stereotypes in early 20th century American culture. Using artwork by the era’s most popular illustrators, “The Girl on the Magazine Cover: The Christy Girl’s Sisters in American Popular Culture” will show how these images created a visual vocabulary for understanding femininity, masculinity, and class status, which set cultural norms for what it meant to be an American. The lecture will be held 4:10 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, in Skillman Library, Gendebien room.

Costume historian Barbara Meyer Darlin will reveal the multi-layers worn by early 20th century women as she dresses and undresses as a Victorian lady and a Christy Girl in “Unlacing the Victorian Woman” 4:10 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at Skillman Library, Gendebien room.

At the turn of the century, during the pre-television and motion picture era, illustrated magazines provided the greatest collective visual experience for middle-class Americans. Artist and reporter Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952) was yearning to enlarge his illustration portfolio from the typical war story commission and began developing his trademark Christy Girl. She appeared frequently throughout his work and quickly joined the ranks of the Gibson and Fisher Girls as examples of the ideal American beauty. The Christy Girl was given her name in 1906 with the publication of the artist’s gift book, The Christy Girl.

For American middle-class women with an interest in climbing the social ladder, the Christy Girl served as a role model. Sheoffered a refreshing view of the American ideal woman. While many contemporary illustrators such as Charles Dana Gibson were portraying an aristocratic lady who enjoyed her husband’s financial security and social status, Christy created a more tangible dream. The Christy Girl represented the intelligent new woman who was educated, enjoyed the outdoors and athletics, and had a natural beauty about her that made her seem approachable and friendly. Quite often the Christy Girl’s independent and confident nature put her at odds with her male counterparts, creating interesting gender tensions in Christy’s illustrations. These tensions were explored further by the artist when the Christy Girl entered World War I and donned various military uniforms, struck attractive poses, imploring young men to join the cause, and asked citizens to buy war bonds.

A former senior editor of Good Housekeeping and associate editor of McCall’s, Kitch is author of The Girl on the Magazine Cover: The Origins of Visual Stereotypes in American Mass Media and Pages from the Past: History and Memory in American Magazines. Her recent journal articles on history and memory in journalism have appeared in or are in press at Journalism Studies, Journalism History, and Popular Communication. She received her bachelor’s degree from Boston University, a master’s degree from Penn State University, and a doctorate from Temple University.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in theater from Indiana University, Darlin began her own fashion design business and was a costume designer for regional dance and theater companies. In 1987, she moved into a 100-year-old house that inspired “Unlacing the Victorian Woman.” Other performances in her repertoire include “The Gibson Girl Friday Meets the Victorian Lady,” which compares the lifestyles and fashions of a wealthy society lady and a working girl at the turn of the century, and “Arsenic and Tight Lace: Beauty Secrets of La Belle Époque,” a demonstration about beauty secrets from the same era. Her work has been featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer Magazineand Main Line Today.

Opened in 1963 to replace Van Wickle as Lafayette’s main library, Skillman Library originally contained 450 seats (triple the number in Van Wickle) and had the capacity to house 320,000 volumes. Sections of the library were renovated in 1986-87, when the building was also enlarged through the addition of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Wing. In April 2005, Lafayette celebrated its $22-million expansion and renovation giving the library 25 percent more seating capacity, with access to the campus computer network at virtually every seat, and 20 years of growth space for the library’s collection.

Spaces within the library are named in appreciation for the generosity of Lafayette alumni and friends in supporting the library’s modernization.

The library is named in honor of David Bishop Skillman ’13, a longtime member of the Board of Trustees who also served as board secretary and College counsel. In 1932, to coincide with its centennial celebration, Lafayette published his two-volume history of the College.

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