19th Century American Woman Artists You Don’t Know


The following artists constitute a very different breed of American heroes than those we’re used to hearing about. They fought for feminism decades before the term was coined, proving that it’s not just plausible, but necessary, that America’s artistic narrative includes the female voice.

The following 10 women used their minds, their imaginations, their hands and their hearts to ensure liberty and justice for all, while creating some damn beautiful images in the meantime. Behold, 10 more woman artists of the 19th century who deserve to be on every college art history syllabus.

1. Mary Ann Willson
mry ann
Born: Early 1800s
From: Greene County, New York
Medium: Painting
Why we love her: Little is known about this folk artist, whose name was unknown until her portfolio was discovered in 1943. Her mythological paintings, often made with materials like berry juice, vegetable dye and brick dust, displayed great imagination not only in subject matter but experimentation with shape and color.

2. Eliza Goodridge


Born: 1798
From: Templeton, Massachusetts
Medium: Miniatures
Why we love her: Who doesn’t love miniatures? Goodridge picked up the technique from her older sister Sarah, also a miniaturist, and continued the passion throughout her life. Given the lack of women’s education available at the time, Goodridge was essentially a self-taught artist of teeny tiny portraits.

3. Mary Blood Mellen
Born: 1819
From: Massachusetts
Medium: Painting
Why we love her: Mellen was one of the few women painters associated with the Hudson River School, a group of artists working in nineteenth-century New England on luminous landscapes and maritime images. She’s known for her renderings of nostalgic spaces, brought to life with her precise rendering of light.

4. Anne Whitney
Born: 1821
From: Watertown, Massachusetts
Medium: Sculpture
Why we love her: Whitney was a sculptor, an abolitionist and a suffragette. At one point in her early career, Whitney won a competition based on her statue of Charles Sumner, which was later revoked once Whitney’s identity as a woman was revealed. Now, she’s received the recognition she’s long deserved, with work displayed at the Smithsonian Institution, the Dallas Museum of Art and Harvard University, among other locales.

5. Lilly Martin Spencer
Born: 1822
From: Exeter, England
Medium: Painting
Why we love her: Although born in England, Spencer immigrated to New York at eight years old, and Ohio soon after. From the outside, her genre paintings render blissful domestic scenes of idealized mothers and children. Yet there is also a liberal underbelly to the works, which often subvert gender and class norms, rendering male figures as lovable and meek.

6. Susan Waters
Born: 1823
From: Bordentown, New Jersey
Medium: Painting
Why we love her: Waters, a self-taught painter of portraits and landscapes, used the money made from her artwork to support herself through seminary school. Later in life, aside from being an advocate for women’s and animal rights, Waters was the primary breadwinner of the family, a true rarity for the time.

7. Eunice Pinney
Born: 1770
From: Windsor, Connecticut.
Medium: Painting
Why we love her: Pinney was one of the earliest artists to explore the medium of watercolor, transforming the pigment into intricate historical and literary narratives. The folk artist’s works are defined by their balanced compositions vibrant use of line and color, and stylish protagonists.

8. Bessie Potter Vonnoh
Born: 1872
From: St Louis, Missouri
Medium: Sculpture
Why we love her:Potter took pottery in school and knew from a young age she wanted to be a sculptor. While studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, Potter assisted sculptor Lorado Taft on his building for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, working with a team of women artists who’d come to be known as the “White Rabbits.”

9. Elizabeth Glaser
Born: 1815
From: Unknown
Medium: Painting
Why we love her: Very little is known about this folk artist; most information known about her lifetime was plucked from the inscriptions on her artworks. Her bold, calligraphy-style watercolors capture the lifestyle and personal style of the upper-class American woman.

10. Elizabeth Jane Gardner
Born: 1837
From: Exeter, New Hampshire
Medium: Painting
Why we love her:Gardner’s artistic style was greatly influenced by her lover and eventual partner William-Adolphe Bouguereau. But don’t be mistaken, Gardner was quite the feminist pioneer; she notable petitioned to the police to be permitted to wear men’s clothes so she could attend the premiere life drawing classes.

For more of art history’s most iconic female forces, check out our original list of 19th century American women artists to know and this roundup of 15th-19th century women artists.

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