Gender Roles and Caricature

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Order of Arrangement for the Consecration of the Soldiers’ Cemetery… (Philadelphia, 1863).


Men of the Washington Grays. Alumen print photograph (Philadelphia, 1861).

Wearing the Breeches and The Would-Be Woman. Hand-colored engravings. Mid-19th century. Gift of John A. McAllister.

Rather than express romantic feelings toward the recipient, comic valentines satirized different ethnic groups, occupations, pastimes, and political activities with cruel caricatures and biting doggerel. These two comic valentines poke fun at supposedly masculine women and feminine men whose proclivities are made obvious by their cross dressing.

E. W. Carryl, Army and Navy Goods (Philadelphia, 1861).

John Cameron. The Capture of an Unprotected Female, or the Close Up of the Rebellion. Lithograph. New York: Currier & Ives, 1865.


On May 10, 1865 Union troops captured Confederate president Jefferson Davis in the Georgia countryside. At the time of his seizure, Davis was wearing his wife’s overcoat and a shawl, and rumor soon spread that he attempted to elude capture by disguising himself as a woman. Northern publishers issued more than a dozen cartoons mocking Davis by depicting him facing federal troops while wearing a hoop skirt and bonnet.

R. Newell & Son, Ordnance Dept. Phila. Navy Yard . Albumen print photograph (Philadelphia, ca.1862).

George Rau. [William Rau with Friends]. Albumen print carte-de-visite. Philadelphia, ca. 1876. Gift of William Rau Haden, Sr.


Dressed as a woman, William Rau poses on the laps of two of his male friends in his older brother’s photographic studio. It is not clear if the young men are dressed as specific characters acting out a known scene, or merely having some spontaneous fun. William Rau became a successful commercial photographer in Philadelphia.

R. Newell & Son, Ordnance Dept. Phila. Navy Yard . Albumen print photograph (Philadelphia, ca.1862).

The New Woman – Wash Day. Gelatin silver stereograph print. New York: Underwood & Underwood, 1901. Gift of Erika Piola.

Dressed in bloomers and smoking a cigarette, this emancipated “new woman” strikes a masculine pose as she condescendingly views her husband bending over a wash tub. Not only does he perform women’s work, but the long apron protecting his clothes from the water makes him look like he is wearing women’s clothing as well. Role reversals and cross dressing were popular themes for turn-of-the-century stereographs.