Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of ETHEL PLUMMER, 1878-1936
By Mindy Johnson - author, historian, professor of film/animation history – California Institute of the Arts & College of the Canyons, Los Angeles, CA.
Groundbreaking illustrator and activist in the Suffrage Movement
Born March 30, 1878, Ethel McClellan Plummer was the only child born to Roswell McClellan Plummer and Eliza Bloom of Brooklyn, NY. Ethel attended Brooklyn's Adelphi Academy, one of the oldest preparatory schools in NYC, where she was busy within the art department. In 1904, Ethel continued her art studies at the New York School of Art on 57th street, studying with Robert Henri and Francois Luis Mora. By 1912, Ethel set out on a freelance career, designing and drawing illustrations for magazines, newspapers, advertisements and books.
Renowned for later defining the look and tone of the 1920s flappers with her groundbreaking illustrations, Ethel regularly attended the annual costume ball hosted by the Society of Illustrators and Artists League. She was a fast friend of Helena Smith Dayton, and these leading artists broke down barriers as suffrage supporters. In 1915, Ethel designed an eight-foot tall campaign poster which became a familiar symbol of the suffragette movement. Exhibited on placards and billboards within theater lobbies, Ethel's design featured a fashionable couple of the day, sharing an umbrella, captioned with irony:
"You ask us to attend shows with you, and join you for dinner, and marry you, so why don't you ask us to vote with you?" NY TIMES MAGAZINE, 10/3/1915.
Later that year, Ethel joined a number of suffragists who non-violently disrupted the male-only confines of a boxing match. Climbing into the ring at the outbreak of the match, the women broke into an impassioned plea in defense of women's right to vote. They were forcibly removed to paddy wagons and later arrested.
In 1916, Ethel moved to Greenwich Village where she continued illustrating, garnering celebrity status as her work was then regularly featured in the New York Herald, Life Magazine and Vanity Fair. "Ethel Plummer, the New York girl artist who, through her ability to ‘draw a human figure in three lines and yet give it a full set of organs,' has wooed fame, is as distinctive as her work. ‘The Ethel Plummer Girl,' now copied so much, is none other than Ethel Plummer herself – chic, vivacious, active, up-to-the-very-last-second in everything." An active member of the Society of Illustrators, she frequented the Societies' stag-events and later served as the Vice President of this noted club.
On Christmas day in 1917, Ethel quietly married fellow artist Norman Jacobsen. Shortly after the wedding, Norman was drafted and served in the infantry overseas during most of WWI. Ethel continued to illustrate throughout the early 1920s and her work became widely sought after, but her marriage to Norman became estranged after he set up permanent residence in Paris in the mid 1920s.
Choosing to focus on her work, in 1925, Ethel Plummer became the first woman artist published in The New Yorker, with her work chosen for the inaugural issue. This led to further covers and illustrations for Vogue and various pulp magazines including Droll Stories, Saucy Stories and Young's Realistic Magazine.
In 1929, Ethel was the reluctant source of suspicion in a scandalous scene of matrimonial discord. Following several weeks of surveillance, local police were sent to Ethel's Westport, Connecticut home in the early hours of the morning. Sent by Myrtle Lee Humphreys, the neglected wife of the millionaire heir and National Guard Colonel, Frederick Humphreys, the police confronted F. Humphreys with an arrest warrant for "unfaithfulness to his marriage vows." Despite the presence of her mother, Ethel's claims of innocence did little to quell the tide.
Later in 1929, following Humphreys's sticky divorce, Ethel later amicably divorced her estranged husband, who was living in Paris. In 1930, Ethel and her mother moved to a residency hotel in Greenwich Village where she continued with her designs and illustrations until her she passed at the untimely age of 58, due to a cerebral hemorrhage on October 31, 1936.
Ethel Plummer, Cartoons, November, 1916
"Poster by Ethel Plummer" New York Times Magazine, October 3, 1915
Vanity Fair Magazine (Cover), June 1914
Vanity Fair Magazine (Cover), April 1915
Vogue Magazine (Cover), July 1, 1915
"Illustrators and Artists Have a ‘Regular Circus'" The Sun (New York), January 26, 1916
Vanity Fair Magazine (Cover), May 1917
"Miss Ethel Plummer, Artist, Bride Since Last Christmas" New York Herald, November 26th, 1918 (w/ photo)
"Touching Upon Aunts and Antiques" New York Tribune, February 23, 1919
"Jealous Wife Causes Arrest" The Elwood Call Leader (Indiana), August 17, 1929
"On The Rocks" New York Times, September 20, 1929
American Women Modernists: The Legacy of Robert Henri, 1910-1943 by Robert Henri, Marian Wardle, Sarah Burns, Brigham Young University, Museum of Art. (Rutgers University Press), pp. 205
"Ethel Plummer" – CLARA – Database of Women Artists http://clara.nmwa.org/index.php?g=entity_detail&entity_id=6700
"Ethel Plummer" - Pulp Artists website – www.pulpartists.com (w/ photo)