Hilda Terry and the All-boys
Club. The National Cartoonists Society
Caniff read the letter to the October 26 meeting of the Society, and
as soon as he had finished, Lou Hanlon rose and announced that he was
in favor of admitting women to membership "for purely sexual
Quips and japes aside, everyone in the room knew that Terry had
raised an issue that would not, now, go away until it was resolved.
And resolving it could split the membership into opposing factions.
There were still members of the Society who wished passionately to
maintain the marching and chowdering group as a wholly masculine
redout. And the gender restriction wasn't simply a question of
custom: the Society's constitution laid down the rules of eligibility
for membership, specifying that "any cartoonist (male) who signs his
name to his published work" could apply for membership. The matter
would have to be referred to the entire membership, and that was
certain to promote bad feeling in some corners.
The November Newsletter printed Terry's letter and a coupon for
members to return, expressing their opinions on the question of women
in the ranks. The results were reported at the November 30 meeting:
women were overwhelmingly approved for membership. A vote conducted
at the same meeting validated the opinion poll. And Hilda Terry was
promptly put up for membership, the first woman candidate. ("I'd
rather look at her across the dinner table than Otto Soglow," said
Mel Casson in seconding Terry's nomination.) Later, when Mike Angelo
in Philadelphia read the report of the meeting in the December
Newsletter, he did his duty as a member and went out recruiting. He
asked the well-known magazine gag cartoonist Barbara Shermund if
she'd be interested in joining. She was, so Angelo sent her name in
to the Membership Committee, the second woman candidate.
The Membership Committee, following its prescribed routine, reviewed
the qualifications of all applicants for membership and then
submitted the names of those who passed muster to the entire
membership for a vote. At the regular meeting at the end of December,
Alex Raymond, chairman of the Membership Committee, reported on the
most recent of the Committee's deliberations:
"We held a referendum in this Society about women members," he said.
"We voted and gave them the privilege of joining. I believe that we
should admit people for professional ability alone. We must now vote
upon the candidacy of women as they are received by my committee. We
will treat them as the men. As a result, we have passed on Hilda
Terry, Barbara Shermund as well as George Shellhase and Lee Elias."
The members voted on all four candidates by mail ballot during the
week before the next month's meeting on January 25. In common with
most New York clubs of the day, NCS employed the blackball to deny
membership to an individual: three negative votes were enough to end
a person's quest for membership in the Society. Astonishingly, both
Terry and Shermund received three negative votes. The issue of
feminine membership, which everyone thought had been settled at the
November meeting, was suddenly, rudely, re-opened. When the results
of the balloting were announced at the January 25 meeting, the room
Consternation and confusion. Willard Mullin and Greg d'Alessio and
several others walked out in disgust. Al Capp would have left, too,
but the speaker of the evening, the distinguished censorship expert
Morris Ernst, was his guest, and Capp didn't feel he could abandon
the attorney. Alfred Andriola also wanted to leave but felt obliged
to stay in order to be able to report the evening's developments in
the next Newsletter.
Caniff was incensed, his Irish temper (not often on display)
aroused. He delivered an angry Presidential lecture.
"The all male thing, that was wrong," he told me when I asked him
about it. "It just didn't make sense. Cartooning has nothing to do
with sex. It was just wrong, that's all. Absolutely wrong "
The meeting stormed on into the night, the longest meeting the
Society had held to-date. Finally, they voted to return the women's
names to the Membership Committee, pending resolution of the issue by
formal referendum or amendment to the constitution.
When the news reached members who hadn't attended the meeting, most
reacted in anger and disgust. Mike Angelo in Philadelphia, having
urged Shermund to apply for membership, was particularly outraged:
"Have we minds, or do we just run in all directions?" he wrote; "I'm
embarrassed, to say the least."
But apparently the blackballing of Terry and Shermund had not been
entirely a case of surreptitious sexism lashing out anonymously where
it otherwise feared to stand and be counted. Bob Dunn wrote a letter
to the membership offering this explanation.
Regarding the gals, I'm for them. And I voted that way.
Indeed. Another referendum was conducted. This time, seventy percent
of the membership voted, and two-thirds of them endorsed the idea of
membership for women cartoonists. But the blackball provision of the
constitution made the group hesitant to bring the candidacies they
had in hand to the test of a vote. The issue was debated in meetings
and investigated by committee until May. At the May meeting, they
decided to vote on the women candidates at the June meeting, and if
the women were denied membership by blackball, their names would
again be returned to the Membership Committee and held until a
constitutional amendment could be passed to change the voting rules.
In June, women were at last formally admitted to membership in the
National Cartoonists Society. Subsequent to approving Terry and
Shermund, the Membership Committee had also approved Edwina Dumm,
whose Cap Stubbs and Tipple, a folksy strip about a boy and his dog
and his grandmother, had been warming hearts with gentle humor since
1913. All three women became members in June 1950. And no one--not
even the most vociferous of the old guard male order
mandarins--resigned over it. The Society had survived another test of
its vitality. But it would not have happened without that wonderfully
sarcastic letter from the courageous Hilda Terry.