Peter Newell, The Johnson Family at the Columbian Exposition (1893)

One of the most annoying aspects of Peter Newell’s production was his frequent reliance on racial stereotypes, which often becomes racism tout court; here is what Bridget R. Cooks writes in “Fixing Race: Visual Representations of African-Americans att the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893” (Meet Me at the Fair: A World’s Fair Reader. Ed. Laura Hollengreen, Celia Pearce, Rebecca Rouse and Bobby Schweizer. ETC Press, 2014. 97-111. Online.):

At the turn of the twentieth century, racist cartoons and ethnic caricatures were expected and enjoyed by the readership of some of America’s most popular magazines. Although Harper’s Weekly, with its lofty subtitle “A Journal of Civilization,” positioned itself as a more serious magazine than journals such as Harper’s Bazaar and Puck that routinely printed degrading caricatures, it too occasionally published racist material. During the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Harper’s Weekly published a fifteen-part Saturday cartoon series about the fictional Johnson family by illustrator Peter Newell. Newell’s series is in keeping with the popular nineteenth-century caricature tradition regarded as acceptable among his peers in the mainstream American press. However, the Johnson Family cartoons are remarkable because they are the only racist images in the issues of Harper’s Weekly in which they appear, highlighting the importance of their message that African-Americans were an unwanted presence at an event that served to solidify America’s national identity. To date, there has not been an analysis of the anomalous Johnson family series and its unique function in the context of Harper’s Weekly.

The series actualy consisted of 18 half-page panels, one of which was not used (“The Johnson Family Visits an Ostrich Farm”) and the last two appeared in Harper’s Bazaar on 4 and 11 November 1893 (see Newell Papers at Beinecke). Below is the full sequence: I have taken the pictures from scans at Hathi Trust for the first 15 episodes and from the Home Economics Archive at Cornell for the last two. The quality is not good, horrible for the last two images. I’d appreciate better scans if anyone can get them.

















The missing episode, in addition to the unpublished one, is no. 8 from the 16 September 1893 issue (no. 1917) of Harper’s Weekly: “The Johnson Family visit Lady Aberdeen’s Irish Village and Blarney Castle.” The online facsimile at Hathi Trust does not have pp. 887-892, where it probably appeared.

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1 Response to Peter Newell, The Johnson Family at the Columbian Exposition (1893)

  1. Pingback: Peter Newell’s Jeff Pettingill at the Exposition | A Blog of Bosh

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