The Jessie Willcox Smith Photograph Collection in the Print and Photograph Department is not the only place to find the famed illustrator’s work at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Smith was one of the many talented artists recruited by the United States Committee of Public Information to create propaganda posters during World War I. In 1918, Smith designed “Have You a Red Cross Service Flag?” a poster which Pennsylvania poster dealer George Theofiles labeled as, “a very popular poster done by an equally popular children’s book illustrator of the period” (Theofiles, American Posters of World War I, 169).
An article in the 1918 Thanksgiving issue of The Red Cross Bulletin described this poster even more enthusiastically:
“In the Jessie Willcox Smith poster the Red Cross Christmas Roll-Call will present one of the finest studies of child life ever painted. It is a window scene which it is hoped will be reproduced in every home in the country. A little boy is fixing a Red Cross service flag in his window to indicate that his home is 100 per cent enrolled. A Christmas wreath is suspended above. Miss Smith set aside all her regular orders and work to produce this poster for the Red Cross.”
A Philadelphia native, Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935) studied at the Moore College of Art (then the School of Design for Women), the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and with Howard Pyle at the Drexel Institute. Smith lived with fellow artists Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley, who collectively became known as the Red Rose Girls. Smith not only grew into a nationally recognized children’s book illustrator, she also designed the cover of the magazine, Good Housekeeping, from 1918 to 1932.
Smith frequently took portrait photographs to use as studies for her illustrations. Two photographs within the Library Company’s Jessie Willcox Smith Collection indicate that she may have been planning to design additional World War I posters. These two character studies show a sailor seated either on a porch or in a field pointing towards the horizon. I have not been able to track down posters created from these photographs, but please let us know if you are aware of any related images.
Library Company of Philadelphia Intern