The University Girls Series

Written by Frédéric Giuliano, former archivist at McGill University. Published in Many Women, Many Voices, Stories from McGill’s Collections. McGill University Library and Archives, 2018.

These University Girls

We Can Do It! she seems to say, anticipating the iconic propaganda poster slogan used during World War II and later by modern feminists. A far cry from J. Howard Millers’ poster featuring Geraldine Doyle, a Michigan factory worker, rolling up her sleeve and flexing a strong bare arm, F. Earl Christy’s (1882–1961) postcard of a ‘university girl’ shows a young woman wearing the colours of McGill University with a mixture of restraint and strength in her attitude. A strange mix that attracts the eye and draws a smile on the face of the viewer. Christie studied commercial art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The ‘University Girls’ series is one of many representing the elite class of the time. Unlike his predecessors, Christy idealized the upper-class female students. These ‘girls’ usually showed their allegiance to the institution by wearing the school colours and waving a school pennant. The work of F. Earl Christy is remarkable in many ways. Not only has he been published by numerous companies but other artists created unsigned look-alike series of Christy’s ‘university girls.’

In a sense, Christy’s drawings perfectly capture the challenges that early modern feminists were facing. Torn between traditional roles in which society wished to confine them and their will to become independent citizens, these ‘university girls’ undertook the long walk towards social equality by gaining access to higher education. Hence, is it really surprising that one of the ‘university girls’ graced the cover of Margaret Gillett’s 1981 book entitled We Walked Very Warily: A History of Women at McGill? If the walk was cautious, it was nonetheless unstoppable.1

Left: McGill postcard: The McGill University Girls Series, ca 1909. F. Earl Christy (1882-1961). McGill University Archives 2007-0090.03.1. Right: McGill postcard: The University Girls Series, 1907. F. Earl Christy. McGill University Archives, PU042016.

These iconic images are featured in the Ex Libris line of Products available for sale from ROAAr and Le James Bookstore.

  1. Many Women, Many Voices; Stories from McGill Collections. Edited by Nathalie Cooke, Frédéric Giuliano, Christopher Lyons, Gwendolyn Owens, Jacquelyn Sundberg, Mary Hague-Yearl. McGill University Library and Archives, 2018, Montreal. See more information here.

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