|A room full of Helen Hokinson's Best Girls|
In reading Joseph Mitchell's My Ears Are Bent, a collection of newspaper profiles of the well-known and not-so-well-known denizens of New York City, I learned that one of the most popular cartoonists for the magazine from the mid-1920s through 1940s was Helen Hokinson.
I had not heard of Ms. Hokinson but when I looked online I recognized her work. Her cartoons featured older well-to-do women who were concerned with fashion, the beauty parlor, women's clubs, pets, and gardens.
I didn't realize that in those years there were any female cartoonists contributing to the magazine. How wrong I was. According to one web site, Ms. Hokinson contributed more than 1800 cartoons to the publication and her work was featured 68 times on its cover.
Ms. Hokinson was born in 1893 in Illinois, attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago, and moved to New York City to pursue a career in fashion design. She began drawing cartoons - for a few months she did a comic strip for a New York tabloid - and someone suggested she take some of her drawings to the newly formed New Yorker magazine and her career was born.
Here is what Mr. Mitchell had to say about her characters:
The funniest people in the republic to Helen E. Hokinson....are the middle-aged ladies who live in exclusive Westchester towns, in the Oranges or in the Gramercy Square neighborhoods and whose more or less empty lives revolve in a dignified fashion around the garden or culture club, the beauty shop and the detective story.
These are women who have charge accounts, plenty of leisure, poodle dogs, chauffeurs, a box at the opera and the right to sit in Gramercy Park. They have regular appointments with hairdressers, and the hard cash some of them spend in beauty shops would wreck a bank.
Their husbands are executives and brokers. They are on the boards of private charities, and there are a flock of Madame Presidents among them.
"I don't like people to get the idea I am bitter about them," Hokinson said. "I just think they're funny. I seldom draw the vicious type. The ones who are unconsciously funny are the ones I like."
There are six books of Ms. Hokinson's collections of cartoons and used editions are available on-line. Perhaps her favorite was My Best Girls published in 1941.
Ms. Hokinson was killed in 1949 in a mid-air airplane collision at Washington National Airport.