The Women of the Philadelphia Ten

Three years prior to the ratification of the 19th Amendment, a group of women artists had joined together to publicly exhibit their artwork in the United States. This group, known as The Philadelphia Ten, was compiled primarily of students of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art and Design). Although initially compiled of ten artists the group grew to encompass nearly 30 painters and sculptors.

At a time when women artists were relegated to parlor painting, the idea of young women trudging through fields and forests to find the perfect vantage for painting en plein air was quite outrageous. 

The goal of these women was simple. Having been blocked from exhibiting at a number of public institutions, The Philadelphia Ten’s primary objective was to expose their work to the world. Unlike their male counterparts, artists of the Philadelphia Ten were judged primarily on their gender, not the skill and execution of their artwork. They were not permitted to enroll in many art academies of the day, a fact that made PSDW a haven for female talent in the early 20th century. They did not have access to models, an instructional tool that was denied them simply because they were women. Women artists were considered ‘dabblers’ or ‘hobbyists’; pursuing serious instruction was not encouraged. Although they were not the first women’s art group, they sought the invaluable benefit gained by the organizations that came before them- peer support.

The majority of The Philadelphia Ten were considered Impressionists. Their choice of subject was diverse; encompassing floral still lifes, intimate genre scenes and vast light-filled landscapes. At a time when women artists were relegated to parlor painting, the idea of young women trudging through fields and forests to find the perfect vantage for painting en plein air was quite outrageous. 

Eventually, the landscapes and still lifes of these artists would be overshadowed by Modernism and abstraction, but the determination of The Philadelphia Ten to gain acceptance as true contemporaries of their male counterparts paved the way for generations of women artists to come. Although somewhat obscured by history, the stories and dedication of these artists should not be forgotten.

Mary Elizabeth Price 1877–1965

Pioneering American Impressionist painter Mary Elizabeth Price played a key role in the New Hope School of painting in the early twentieth century and enjoyed a long career marked by critical and commercial success.

Born into a Quaker family in West Virginia, her family moved to their ancestral farm in Solebury, Pennsylvania when she was a child. Her family had a predisposition to the arts: one of her brothers became a well-known author, art critic, and owner of Ferargil Galleries in New York City, the other a respected art dealer and frame-maker. After studying at the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Price studied privately in New Hope with William Bredin and then lived in New York City for a couple of years where she conducted a successful children’s painting school with Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

By the late 1920s she settled permanently in the New Hope area, purchasing a small cottage she had been renting and dubbing it Pumpkin Seed because of its small size and vivid yellow color. She would remain there for the rest of her life. Price was influenced greatly by local New Hope impressionist artists like Daniel Garber and developed her own reputation producing decorative panels featuring flowers on gold or silver leaf backgrounds. The lilies, delphiniums, hollyhocks, mallows, irises, peonies, gladioli, and poppies that she grew in her cottage garden frequently became subjects for her paintings. She also painted landscapes and scenes of village and farm life, and her work garnered praise for its modern use of color and subtle delicacy of line and form.

Beginning in the 1910s and throughout the remainder of her career, Price exhibited constantly. In 1914 she exhibited at the Corcoran Biennial in Washington, D.C., for the first of seven times. That same year also marked her first exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy, where she showed for more than twenty years. She also exhibited her work at the National Academy of Design, New York, sixteen times between 1921 and 1943, and with The Philadelphia Ten—a progressive and influential group of female artists—from 1921 until 1945. Price held countless solo exhibitions in New York City as well, and she won the 1927 Carnegie Prize for best oil painting by an American artist. In addition to her artistic endeavors, she was chairman of exhibits for the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors from 1920 through 1927, and one of the founders of the Phillips Mill Art Association.

Price died at the age of eighty-seven, leaving behind an important legacy of advocacy for women’s art and education. Her work can be found in the permanent collections of Swarthmore, Smith, and Dickenson colleges, as well as the James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, and other museums and institutions.