Hilda Terry and the All-boys Club.  The National Cartoonists Society
had been a mens’ club since its formation in 1946. It had been
founded by a group of New York cartoonists who had discovered they
enjoyed the pleasure of each other’s company while doing chalktalks
for soldiers convalescing in hospitals in the area during the World
War II. One of the group, C.D. Russell (Pete the Tramp) had begun
advocating that they form a cartoonists club--“but no girls,” he’d
say, staring at Toni Mendez, erstwhile Rockette from Radio City Music
Hall, who was the cartoonists’ connection to the American Theater
Wing, the sponsor of the chalktalk series. Mens’ clubs were not at
all unusual at the time. There were several (Friars, Lambs, etc.) in
New York that served as models for NCS; all were vestiges of an
earlier age, admittedly, but they were there.
     By the fall of 1949, NCS had begun to make itself visible, chiefly
by mounting exhibitions of original cartoon art in the New York
vicinity and by doing chalktalks for charitable purposes--among them,
that fall, a national tour to sell U.S. savings bonds. In the midst
of the bond tour, NCS President Milton Caniff (Steve Canyon) had
received a letter from Hilda Terry, wife of the Society's secretary
Greg d'Alessio and creator of Teena, a comic strip about teenagers.
Terry was writing as spokesperson for several women cartoonists, who
had had about all they could take of the male exclusivity upon which
the Cartoonists Society had been so defiantly founded. A social club
for the boys had been all right, she pointed out, but the more
visible the club became as a professional association, the more
damaging it was for women cartoonists to be excluded from membership.
Terry presented the argument concisely, and its logic was


While we are, individually, in complete sympathy with your wish to
convene unhampered by the presence of women, and while we would,
individually, like to continue, as far as we are concerned, the
indulgence of your masculine whim, we find that the cost of your stag
privilege is stagnation for us, professionally. Therefore, we appeal
to you, in all fairness, to consider that:
WHEREAS your organization displays itself publicly as the National
Cartoonists Society, and
WHEREAS there is no information in the title to denote that it is
exclusively a men's organization, and
WHEREAS a professional organization that excludes women in this day
and age is unheard of and unthought of, and
WHEREAS the public is therefore left to assume, where they are
interested in any cartoonist of the female sex, that said cartoonist
must be excluded from your exhibitions for other reasons damaging to
the cartoonist's professional prestige,
We most humbly request that you either alter your title to the
National Men Cartoonists Society, or confine your activities to
social and private functions, or discontinue, in effect, whatever
rule or practice you have which bars otherwise qualified women
cartoonists to membership for purely sexual reasons.

The Committee for Women Cartoonists
Hilda Terry, Temporary Chairwoman

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.
What was so disgraceful about the last meeting [January 25]? Some of
the guys who didn't want to hurt Greg d'Alessio voted for the gals
[at the meetings in November and December] when they were really
against admitting them. They are guilty of trying to be kind. The
three strong hands that blackballed the ladies went up to force
another referendum. The three negative voters stated that they did it
to bring the issue forcefully to the attention of the membership
because the return on the first referendum for admitting the gals
[conducted in the November Newsletter] was a mere 29 out of the
entire 238 [members]. I think this time, we will get a healthy shake.
So the last meeting was not in vain.

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.

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