Spending Some Quality Time With Barbara Shermund’s ‘New Woman’

Although it’s tempting (but lazy) to assume so, men didn’t *altogether* corner the risqué cartoon niche.

It would be quite an injustice to count out the magnificent Barbara Shermund (1899-1978), prolific contributor to The New Yorker (including eight covers) and Esquire magazines, and so much more.

Far too little is known about this pioneering artist, but here’s an insightful piece aiming to rectify the situation, at least a little, written by Caitlin McGurk:


Nothing new under the sun! Frankly, that situation hasn’t gained a wrinkle since this cartoon’s appearance in The New Yorker‘s July 21, 1928 edition.
One of Ms. Shermund’s aforementioned New Yorker covers, from the June 29, 1935 edition.
« All I said was, ‘Granny, how do you like my new bathing suit?’ » Undated piece in ink and watercolour.
« She’s lost! » Esquire, 1944. Ink and watercolour.
« Mr. Dillon, I’d like to ask your daughter’s hand in marriage. » (1953, ink and watercolour.)
« Who was that fellow I saw you with at Ciro’s last nite? » (Cheering Section, 1955. Ink and watercolour.)
« Mother always makes me write it five hundred times before I go out with Mr. Parker » Esquire, publication date unknown, ink and watercolour.
« Let’s play cowboy and indian! » (Cheering Section, 1959. Ink and watercolour.)

I can’t help but be reminded, by that final piece, of Jack Cole‘s rather more trenchant take on a similar power imbalance, published a year earlier.

« Well, there’s history repeating itself. » (Jack Cole, from Playboy, January, 1958.)

A postscript: in March, 2022, Ms. Shermund was the subject of an article in the New York Times’ ‘Overlooked No More’ series, comprising belated obituaries for notable folks whose departure flew under the radar, so to speak. In this case, we learned that:

« Shermund lived out her last years drawing at her home in Sea Bright, N.J., and swimming at a beach nearby. She died on Sept. 9, 1978, at a nursing home in Middletown, N.J.

In 2011, a niece, Amanda Gormley, decided to research her family’s history and was surprised to find that Shermund’s ashes had been left unclaimed in a New Jersey funeral home since 1978.

In May 2019, Gormley raised money through a GoFundMe campaign and, with the contributions of many artists and cartoonists, saw to it that Shermund’s ashes were buried alongside her mother’s grave in San Francisco. »

– RG

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