The following is a guest post by Martha H. Kennedy, Curator of Popular & Applied Graphic Art, Prints & Photographs Division. It’s another in our blog series “Ready for Research,” which highlights collections moving out of the backlog.
We’re celebrating the recent cataloging of more than 600 editorial cartoon drawings by Anne Briardy Mergen (1906-1994). The cartoons span Mergen’s career with the Miami Daily News, ca. 1938-1956, and address pressing topics of those years, including World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, segregation in the United States, atomic power and the arms race. The cartoons are of inherent interest for the perspectives they provide on the period; they also offer insight on the work of a woman cartoonist breaking into a male-dominated profession.
When Mergen published her first political cartoon in April, 1933, in the Miami Daily News, she took the initial, fateful step toward becoming an editorial cartoonist. Using her art school training, experience in fashion illustration, and keen interest in current events, she trained herself and by 1936 worked full time. She held this challenging, prestigious position for more than twenty years during a time when few, if any other women are known to have held comparable jobs. Like her peers, she addressed the urgent topics of her times—internationally, nationally, and locally.
During World War II, for example, she joined her colleagues in sharply condemning Adolf Hitler and fellow dictators. She supported the war effort on the home front in “Keep the Home Fires Burning” (below left). In the immediate aftermath of the war, she also noted and affirmed progress toward the triumph of democratic values as seen in “Out of the Catacombs” (below right).
Mergen also campaigned repeatedly for lasting world peace in her cartoons. In “Hear Ye! Hear Ye!” (below left) the robed judge of History cautions the court and readers to be mindful of past mistakes made in treaty negotiations. On a related issue, the development of atomic energy, she likens the conflict between factions to two sparring genies that arise from mushroom clouds in “Battle of the Century” (below right).
Among Mergen’s cartoons on domestic issues, many demonstrate an enduring commitment to community well-being and often highlight the importance of education. Soon after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, she emphatically stood up for it in “The Message from Above” (below left). Like her colleague Herb Block, she also championed the development of school facilities adequate to meet the needs of growing populations as seen in “Running a Poor Second” (below right). Another cartoon, shown at the top of this post, “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman” (January 29, 1956) underscores her ongoing support for education about and measures to prevent polio—a concern she shared with many who were also raising children, a population particularly vulnerable to the disease.
As a pioneering female cartoonist, Mergen not only managed to balance her professional and personal lives, but also demonstrated balance in the range of issues she addressed in her work, which contributed vitally to her paper winning a Pulitzer Prize. Some sage comments she offered to aspiring cartoonists: “Read your newspaper carefully. See newsreels. Apply plenty of salt to news analysts’ columns and to their counterparts on the radio. The successful cartoonist must to do his own thinking. Always keep in mind that the general public is smarter than politicians and others realize when they try to mould opinion.”
- Read a summary of the Anne Mergen Collection of Editorial Cartoons for the Miami Daily News. The cartoon drawings have been arranged into groups (LOTs) by theme that can be requested for viewing in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room. Have a look at the descriptions of the LOTs. A sample of the cartoons have been digitized (larger versions of the images display only on site at the Library of Congress because of rights considerations).
- Tour the Library of Congress online exhibition “Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists,” which includes two cartoons by Mergen. You may be interested in comments visitors offered about the exhibit, featured in our blog post “Drawn to Purpose Exhibition: What Viewers are Saying.” And if that whetted your appetite, read a blog post about the award-winning book Martha H. Kennedy wrote, Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists (Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, in association with the Library of Congress, 2018) [view catalog record].
- The Mergen cartoons join an impressive array of cartoon collections in the Prints & Photographs Division. For instance, a Mergen cartoon is in good company in the Library of Congress online exhibition “Pointing Their Pens: Herblock and Fellow Cartoonists Confront the Issues.”
- View the online exhibition mounted by the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, The Ohio State University, in Columbus, Ohio: “Anne Mergen, Editorial Cartoonist” curated by Lucy Shelton Caswell.