Today, in honor of the birthday of Rose O'Neill, I would like to share a beautifully illustrated recipe booklet titled The Jell-O Girl Gives A Party. Undated (resources indicate 1914) this charming booklet is graced page after page with shimmering dishes of Jell-O and enchanting illustrations of the Jell-O Girl as she prepares to give a party for her little friends. Before we begin our journey, I would like to introduce you to the International Rose O'Neill Club and their namesake Rose O'Neill.
Although many noted artists such as Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell and Angus MacDonald made Jell-O a household word with their colored illustrations, IMHO, none had the effect and long lasting delight as those created by Rose O'Neill. Rose Cecil O’Neill was born on June 25, 1874, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. There are many resources available online (see below) that highlight the life and career of Rose O'Neill. Below, I have chosen a biographical sketch prepared by Brady Smith for the Literary and Cultural Heritage Map of Pennsylvania.
Rose Cecil O'Neill was born June 25, 1874 to Asenath Smith and William O'Neill; her father, a book seller and mother a former school teacher. Throughout the early stages of her life, O'Neill possessed a divine interest in the arts. Her father encouraged her to be an actress and through both her parent's influences, she learned to appreciate Shakespeare, Chopin and others that significantly stood out among the arts. She absorbed the love of poetry from her father, who encouraged her to read books to retain knowledge that would benefit her especially as a young woman.
O'Neill began expressing herself through paintings in her adolescent years. While she attended Sacred Heart Convent, she won a prize awarded by the Omaha World-Herald, for an illustration she drew. Her family then moved to Ozark, Missouri. She stayed in Ozark for only a short time before opting to move to New York to pursue her dreams of being an artist. O'Neill enjoyed painting but could not escape her fascination with classical literature on Greek myths which later inspired her idea for the Kewpies.
In her later years, O'Neill began to sell illustrations to many of the prominent periodicals and her work appeared in such magazines as Collier's, Truth, McClure's and Harper's. Because the field was dominated by men at this time, she signed her work with her initials “C.R.O.” In 1896, O'Neill married Virginia aristocrat, Gray Latham. They lived in New York where she worked as a staff artist for Puck. While at Puck, she signed over 700 drawings with the signature O'Neill-Latham. However, the two divorced in 1901 and she left her job with Puck and returned to her home, “Bonniebrook” in Ozark, where she wrote and illustrated for several magazines.
O'Neill felt safe at BonnieBrook and while she stayed there, she received letters from longtime admirer Harry Leon Wilson who was the literary editor for Puck. When news of her divorce reached New York, Wilson traveled to BonnieBrook to ask for O'Neill's hand. In 1902, the two were married. They moved from Ozark to Connecticut each to pursue careers in writing. O'Neill wrote her first book 1904 entitled The Loves of Edwy. O'Neill wrote a total of four novels. source
BonnieBrook was Rose's home bound retreat. It was her "favorite place in the world." "In 1967, a week was dedicated to Rose O'Neill and a group of Kewpie collectors met in Branson, the closest town to BonnieBrook. This week was named "Kewpiesta" and evolved into a yearly convention. Every year the International Rose O'Neill Club (IROC) continues to hold a convention in Branson, Missouri. In April of 2009, the Kewpiesta will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Kewpies in print. (Ladies Home Journal, December 1909)
It has been said Rose O'Neill's life reads like a fairy tale and yet, I find this difficult to comprehend.
A few months later, Rose began receiving anonymous letters and gifts in the mail. It turned out that the wonderful letters were coming from a man that was an assistant editor at Puck magazine. Rose and Harry Leon Wilson had never been formally introduced, but they had seen each other. Rose remembered Harry as a 'surly man', but was so taken with his heartfelt letters that she married him in 1902. After a honeymoon in Colorado (where Harry would go for days without speaking to Rose) they moved to BonnieBrook where they lived for the next several winters. While they were together Harry wrote a novel for the first three years they were married and Rose drew the illustrations. One of Harry's later novels became a great success, Ruggles of Red Gap being made into several motion pictures: a silent movie; a 'talkie' with Charles Laughton, and then a remake--"Fancy Pants" with Lucille Ball and Bob Hope. With Harry's sullen moods and Rose's bubbly personality, her marriage to Wilson was slowly coming to an end. They stayed friends until Harry's death.
Rose came home to BonnieBrook, once again to heal her heart. She decided that marriage did not agree with her and concentrated on her artwork. She was in high demand in a field dominated by men. In 1909, in her 'treetop studio' Rose took an afternoon nap. While sleeping, she dreamt that small “myth-like-elf” creatures that were greatly influenced by the Greek god of love, Cupid were bouncing on her coverlet, one even sitting on her hand. When she awoke, she went immediately to her drawing board and developed the tiny images hidden in her dreams into sketches and illustrations which would form her characters. They became known as “Kewpies.”source
In December 1909, the "mother" of the Kewpie characters introduced readers of Ladies' Home Journal to "The Kewpies" in her illustrated poems. The fanciful, elf-like babies with a top-knot head, wide smile, and sidelong eyes soon became a national craze. She described them as "a sort of little round fairy whose one idea is to teach people to be merry and kind at the same time." Around 1913 Rose O’Neill patented a doll based on her Kewpie character.
From 1912 to 1914, the Kewpie doll was an absolute craze. People were buying Kewpie books and Kewpie rattles, Kewpie soap and Kewpie dishes, Kewpie pianos and Kewpie salt-and-pepper shakers. Women began plucking their eyebrows to mimic the surprised dot brows of the little porcelain cherubs. Poet/artist Rose Cecil O'Neill made $1.5 million from the munchkin dolls, which she first invented as magazine illustrations and patented in 1913. source
The cartoon was instantly famous. In 1912 a German porcelain manufacturer started making Kewpie dolls, and that year she and her sister went to Germany to show the porcelain artists how to make the dolls the way she wanted them. The dolls were sold all over the world along with a vast array of Kewpie merchandise such as tableware, fabrics, and trinkets.
Becoming known as the "Queen of Bohemian Society" O'Neill became a women's rights advocate. Her properties included Bonniebrook; an apartment in Washington Square in Greenwich Village that inspired the song Rose of Washington Square; Castle Carabas in Connecticut; and Villa Narcissus on the Isle of Capri, Italy. Considered one of the world's five most beautiful women, O'Neill made a fortune of $1.4 million, approximately $15 million).
O'Neill continued working, even at her wealthiest. Perhaps driven by the unfortunate circumstances in her life to express herself, along with the needs of her family, she delved into different types of art. She learned sculpture at the hand of Rodin (The Thinker), and had several exhibitions of her "Sweet Monsters" in Paris and the United States. She held open salons in her Washington Square apartment where poets, actors, dancers and the 'great thinkers' of her day would gather. O'Neill often continued her drawing until early morning. wikipedia
Rose O'Neill's talent did not end as an illustrator. She was also an author, poet, sculptor, actress, inventor and suffragette. She was one of the few women to achieve extraordinary financial success and professional independence in early twentieth-century American cartooning. Such wealth enabled O'Neill, with her sister, Callista, to hold salons in her Greenwich Village studio and create experimental drawings unlike the work for which she is usually known.
She also wrote and illustrated eight children's books featuring Kewpies from 1912 to 1936. Kewpie comics appeared in newspapers during those years, and O'Neill became one of the first female cartoonists in America. Ignoring publicized criticism of her association with the Women's Movement, O'Neill utilized the immense popularity of the Kewpie character to endorse and garner attention to her favorite political causes which included woman suffrage. The National Woman Suffrage Association distributed postcards and posters that utilized her Kewpie and artistic illustrations. A Los Angeles Tribune article reported, "The most celebrated of America's black-and-white artists, Rose O'Neill, creator of ‘The Kewpies,’ is an ardent suffragist and an active member of the Press and Publicity Council of New York City. source
The Great Depression hurt O'Neill's fortune. During that period she was dismayed to find that her work was no longer in demand. The Kewpie character phenomena, after 30 years of popularity, faded, and photography was replacing illustrating as a commercial vehicle. In 1937, Rose O'Neill returned to BonnieBrook permanently. By the 1940s she had lost most of her money and her beautiful homes. She continued to donate her time and pieces of artwork to the School of the Ozarks at Point Lookout, Missouri. She lectured at artist's workshops and continued to address women's groups. She remained a prominent personality in the Branson, Missouri community.
O’Neill worked industriously and financially supported her family and many fellow artists throughout her career. In the 1930s, her fortunes dwindled due to her generosity and the financial stress of a worldwide economic depression. Also, after thirty years of popularity, interest in the Kewpie character started to wane. O’Neill’s artwork—and the Kewpies—were no longer in high demand as realistic photographs replaced fanciful illustrations in magazines and newspapers.
In 1937 O’Neill retreated permanently to Missouri to live at Bonniebrook. There she wrote her memoirs with the help of her friend, the Ozark folklorist Vance Randolph. Her autobiography, published many years after her death, reveals her personal philosophy: “Do good deeds in a funny way. The world needs to laugh or at least smile more than it does.” She died on April 6, 1944, at the age of 70. She was buried at Bonniebrook. source
The Jell-O Girl Gives A Party
In 1899, Orator Francis Woodward, owner of the successful Genesee Pure Food Company, purchased the failing Jell-O product from Pearl B. Wait for $450 dollars. After two years of trying to persuade grocery store owners and their customers to stock and purchase his new four flavored gelatins, Woodward realized the American public was not ready for a dessert that didn't offer decadence such as the rich cakes and pies of the time. He tried to give free samples but to no avail. He tried to sell the Jell-O portion of the company to other salemen but could not get any buyers. With no choice but to push on, Woodward placed an advertisement in The Ladies' Home Journal featuring fashionably dressed ladies wearing clean white aprons and enthusiastic smiles, with the slogan "America's Most Famous Dessert." He offered a massive postal distribution of free samples, along with beautifully illustrated recipe booklets. The translucent, jiggly gelatin began to see a glimmer of success. In 1904, Woodward hired artist Franklin King to design a trademark for Jell-O. Elizabeth, his four-year old blonde daughter became the model. King's rendition of Elizabeth was visible on all magazine ads and recipe booklets until 1908. In 1908, Rose O'Neill, who was in high demand, was employed by Jell-O to revise the drawings of Elizabeth to the now famous Jell-O Girl. The company issued an untold number of booklets based on the Jell-O Girl's travels and cooking adventures. The Jell-O Girl became a famous symbol of "America's Favorite Dessert. The popularity of the Jell-O Girl helped elevate Jell-O's success by promoting a product which was easy to prepare and pleasing to children.
I wasn't quite sure how to approach sharing the glistening recipes offered in this book. So, what I decided to do was not include too many of the recipes but instead, show the illustrations. After all, we aren't actually celebrating Jell-O, (I did that during Jell-O Week) we're celebrating Rose O'Neill's birthdate. There are quite a few pages to the story of how the Jell-O Girl prepares for her party and each one has a short narrative added. I have left the story to your imagination. I hope you find the illustrations as enchanting as they appear in the booklet.
The world needs to laugh or at least smile more than it does."
- 1. Rose O'Neill Biography
- 2. Rose @ National Women's History Project
- 3. Rose O'Neill's Biography
- 4. Rose O'Neill Inventor
- 5. Library of Congress Online Exhibition (has an image of her work published in Puck, April 15, 1903)
- 6. "Kewpiesta"
- 7. History of lovely BonnieBrook
- 8. Other Rose O'Neill Ads
- 9. Rose of Washington Square lyrics
- 10. Jell-O Week (this is a previous post of mine, kinda long:) but, more images
Some of the Jell-O Girl information was cited from one of my favorite advertising leaflets reference books Vintage Cookbooks and Advertising Recipe Leaflets by Sandra J. Norman & Karrie K. Andes (pages 53-58)