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America 1900 | Article

Notable People: Artists and Entertainers

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Charles Dana Gibson and "The Gibson Girl" 
With her hourglass figure, her expertly upswept hair, and her decidedly aristocratic air, she was everything American women in 1900 aspired to be. In the company of men, she clearly held them captive to her obvious charms. "Before her," wrote the New York World, "the American girl was vague, nondescript, inchoate." Who was this icon of genteel femininity? She was a figment of the imagination and product of the pen of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. Never given a name of her own, she was simply referred to as The Gibson Girl. The Gibson Girl graced the pages of nationally read magazines such as Harper's, Collier's Weekly, and Life. Often she was accompanied by the Gibson Man. Together, these two archetypes of femininity and masculinity instructed a whole generation on matters of dress and attitude. From Ivy League dormitories to rude country cabins, men and woman alike looked to Massachusetts native Charles Dana Gibson's creations for inspiration and illustration on how to conduct themselves as forward-moving, optimistic, witty, and urbane modern Americans.

John Philip Sousa 
A stroll through any public park on a warm summer's evening in 1900 was very often set to the musical accompaniment of an outdoor band concert. The master of the outdoor band performance was John Philip Sousa. Sousa was referred to as the March King. A Sousa concert was sure to inspire patriotic pride in all attendees. Relying on booming brass instruments for maximum volume in wide open spaces, Sousa, a former US Marine Corps Band conductor, led stirring interpretations of traditional and original marches. His pieces were optimistic and proud. Among his better known works were "The Stars and Stripes Forever," "Semper Fidelis," and "Washington Post March."

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Scott Joplin and Ragtime 
One critic called it "a national calamity," and declared that its fans had "sold themselves body and soul to the musical Satan." The renowned composer Antonin Dvorak, on the other hand, after touring the United States came to the conclusion that what he called its "beautiful and varied themes" presented the future of American music. The genre of music in debate was called ragtime and its most accomplished performer was Scott Joplin. The exact origins of ragtime were not known. The rhythmically complex music was the product of Baptist hymns and European classics. Joplin himself had gained his musical instruction from his father, an accomplished violinist and former slave. He was also influenced musically by the syncopated style of plantation songs and dances he learned from his mother. In the late 1890's Joplin was living in the small Missouri town of Sedalia when he composed his first hit, "The Maple Leaf Rag." Unlike some critics, Joplin viewed ragtime as a serious musical form that drew upon a variety of styles and ethnic influences. Many of those who criticized it as a crude entertainment did so because it emanated from African American culture. Critic E.R. Kroeger complained, "Is it true that we must accept the music of another race as being that which is American? Have not the white Americans sufficient individuality to develop a characteristic style of composition?" The music buying public while unable to define ragtime, was certain of one thing, they loved it. In 1900, "The Maple Leaf Rag" was flying off the shelves of music stores everywhere. In Sedalia alone, music seller John Stark sold 75,000 copies. The composition would reach sales of over 1 million copies.

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