Occasionally, misbehaving women were the subjects of popular prints. Their behavior and activities might not fit into the mold of ideal womanhood, but artists still represented these women as idealized beauties.

Celeste-al Cabinet. Alfred M. Hoffy, H. R. Robinson, c. 1836

This cartoon was designed as a general political critique of President Andrew Jackson and his supporters, but especially of Martin Van Buren, who was Jackson's choice to replace him in the election of 1836. The dancer at center is Frenchwoman Madame Celeste (proper name: Madame Céleste-Elliott), who performed across the country between 1834 and 1837 to great acclaim. The recently widowed Andrew Jackson was widely reputed to be highly susceptible to feminine charms, and the artist here imagines a scene that unites politics with popular culture. Celeste entertains the president and members of his cabinet, and she is drawn in an idealized way that is typical of how artists generally depicted popular dancers of the time. Note her tiny, pointed feet and precipitously sloping shoulders, exaggerated forms of nineteenth-century beauty ideals.

This image uses the figure of Madame Celeste as a way to comment on male political weakness and dishonor. Jackson remarks about Madame Celeste, "Charming Creature. I've not lost all my penchant for pretty women," a comment that suggests he is easily distracted from important political matters by women’s beauty and feminine frivolity. The artist has depicted Van Buren as a shifty and unscrupulous character. This caricatured Van Buren comments that "this is not the age for scruples of any kind. I like her rapid movements, her quick changes, her gracefull transitions. She is of my school." That is, the creators of this cartoon use Madame Celeste as a way to criticize what they see as Van Buren’s duplicitous and crafty political dealings. Her nimble dancing is a metaphor for Van Buren’s political behavior.

Detail from Celeste-al Cabinet
c. 1836, 34 x 50 cm


Ellen Jewett. Alfred M. Hoffy, H. R. Robinson, 1836.

In April of 1836, a young and beautiful New York City prostitute was found murdered in her bed. The daily newspapers made the case a cause célèbre in New York, and a number of prints and pamphlets that purported to reveal hidden truths were published. This image is an artist's conception of Jewett in her death bed. There is little that is accurate here—for example, Jewett appears to be sleeping soundly and peacefully. As with Dubufe's Regrets, in this illustration the spectacle of a young beauty in a flimsy nightgown was a scandalous one. That she is depicted sleeping allows a viewer to imagine that he is sneaking up on her in the privacy of her bedroom, and this image was designed for no other purpose than to give the male viewer a voyeuristic thrill. In reality, Jewett's body was a grisly sight, but contemporary newspaper accounts ignored this fact, opting instead to fictionalize what they saw, glorifying the murder victim's beauty with rapturous descriptions. Celebrity newspaper editor James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald compared Jewett's body to "the beauties of a statue of marble," going on to write, "It was the most remarkable sight I ever beheld—I never have, and never expect to see such another. … Not a vein was to be seen. The body looked as white—as full—as polished as the pure Parian marble. The perfect figure—the exquisite limbs—the fine face—the full arms—the beautiful bust—all—all surpassing in every respect the Venus de Medicis. … For a few moments I was lost in admiration of this extraordinary sight—a beautiful female corpse—that surpassed the finest statue of antiquity." 1

Detail from Ellen Jewett
1836. 31 x 42 cm


The Real Ellen Jewett. Alfred M. Hoffy, H. R. Robinson, 1836

This image purports to be a posthumous portrait of the famous prostitute. We do not know how accurate this depiction is, but the brothel in which she lived and worked was not too far from the publishing center of New York at the time. Thus, although the lithograph may be purely a product of the artist's imagination, it may also be a fairly accurate likeness. Jewett was known by various newspapermen who worked in the neighborhood where she lived, and the publisher of this image kept his office just eleven blocks from where Jewett was murdered.

Detail from The Real Ellen Jewett
1836. 43 x 31 cm


The Great Republican Reform Party. Nathaniel Currier, 1856.

This image is a political critique of the platform of John C. Frémont, who ran for the office of president of the United States in 1856. He was the first presidential candidate put forth by the Republican Party, which had been formed in 1854 (and would later put forth a much more successful candidate, Abraham Lincoln). Frémont advocated equal rights for women (including the right to vote), freedom of religion, prohibition of alcohol, and, most important in 1856, the emancipation of slaves. The characters in this scene are meant to satirize Frémont's platform positions. The woman second from the left represents a "Bloomerite"—that is, a follower of Amelia Bloomer, who advocated sensible dress for women, including shorter skirts and long pants. The woman at center represents some of the activist women who belonged to various nineteenth-century radical organized groups; in these groups, women often shared power with the men.

The satire targets a variety of radical interest groups, represented by the rest of the figures, whose interests the figure of Frémont pledges to support. The artist's rendering of these figures as stereotypes is meant to disparage them and the interests they lobby for. Along with a particularly grotesque rendering of the voice in favor of the abolition of slavery, we see two female figures representing social reform movements in which women played key roles. The Bloomerite smokes and speaks in favor of recognizing "Woman as the equal of man with a right to Vote and hold Office." The sharp features and bony form of the female figure at center make it clear to the viewer that she and the Free Love movement that she represents are undesirable. She explains that according to Free Love, "the shackles of marriage are not tolerated & perfect freedom exists in love matters." This figure, and her association with the Free Love movement, was meant to shatter male fantasies of erotic utopias full of young, pretty female participants. In this way, the artist reinforces the notion that equality in marriage is as undesirable as the woman who espouses this radical proposition.

Image of The Great Republican Reform Party
c. 1856. 35 x 46 cm

Detail from The Great Republican Reform Party
c. 1856. 35 x 46 cm


Women's Rights. c. 1870.

A number of visual cues in this image would have told a nineteenth-century viewer about the artist's attitude toward women's rights. Here, we see women in all kinds of occupations that were not open to women at the time (and, indeed, would not be open to most American women until the second half of the twentieth century). Many nineteenth-century Americans thought the idea of women serving as sheriffs, police officers, dogcatchers, public sanitation inspectors, or political participants was absurd.  The vignette in the upper left corner of this illustration speaks of a popular concern about what would happen to American society if women were given equal rights of political participation and employment. Here we see a husband caring for the children, while his wife sits in a chair with her feet up, reading the newspaper in her preparation to become an informed citizen and participant in the American political process. 

Detail from Women's Rights
c. 1870. 31 x 46 cm



1. Cited in Patricia Cline Cohen, The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York. New York: Knopf (1998), pp. 16. Original source: New York Herald, April 12, 1836.


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