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.