Political Cartoonist Clifford Berryman: Fusing Fashion and Politics

Today’s post comes from Marisa Hawley, intern in the National Archives Strategy and Communications office.

As part of the “six weeks of style” celebration to recognize the Foundation for the National Archives’ partnership with DC Fashion Week, we are showcasing fashion-related records from our holdings. This week’s fashion theme is Roaring 20s: Fur, Feathers, and Flappers.

To say that Clifford K. Berryman was an accomplished 20th-century political cartoonist would be somewhat of an understatement. Known as one of DC’s renowned graphic political commentators, he was once told by President Harry Truman, “You are a Washington Institution comparable to the Monument.”

Clifford K. Berryman, undated. (U.S. Senate Collection, Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives)

Clifford K. Berryman, undated. (U.S. Senate Collection, Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives)

In honor of the upcoming DC Fashion Week, we take a closer look at three of Berryman’s cartoons from the U.S. Senate Collection that used fads and fashion of the time to make creative political statements.

Berryman first moved to Washington, DC, at the age of 17 to work at the U.S. Patent Office, using his self-taught talents to draw patent illustrations.

In 1891, he became a cartoonist’s understudy for the Washington Post, and within five years, he rose to the top as chief cartoonist. He held this position until 1907, when he became the front-page cartoonist for the Washington Evening Star, where he drew political cartoons until he died in 1949 at the age of 80.

Berryman produced more than 15,000 cartoons throughout his lifetime. For nearly half a century, he chronicled every Presidential administration from Grover Cleveland to Harry Truman, satirizing both Republicans and Democrats alike. Because he never used outlandish caricatures to depict political figures, he earned respect for staying true to the portrayal of his subjects. In 1944 he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, and his collection is featured here at the National Archives in a special online exhibit.

His cartoons, however, were not strictly limited to politics. They covered other topics such as Presidential and congressional elections, both World Wars, DC weather—and, of course, fashion.

Political cartoons are ultimately a commentary on current events, personalities, and societal norms. By referencing various fashion trends at the time, Berryman made his drawings more relatable to the reader.

For example, in his 1909 cartoon about a bill introduced in the Illinois Legislature limiting women’s hats to eighteen inches in diameter, Berryman satirizes the ridiculous nature of women’s headwear during the Edwardian era.

News Note, 04/24/1909. (National Archives Identifier 6010794)

News Note, 04/24/1909. (National Archives Identifier 6010794)

 

In others, he drew attention to political trends using references to 1920s fashion. In this cartoon, he dresses recurring cartoon character Miss Democracy, the personified voice of the American people, in classic flapper’s garb to reflect the shifting national mood of the time. 

Democracy At It’s Best, 11/08/1922. (National Archives Identifier: 6011767)

Democracy At It’s Best, 11/08/1922. (National Archives Identifier: 6011767)

 

Similarly, Berryman addressed the topic of the Federal Income Tax, ratified in 1913, by comparing the prospect of tax return cuts to the popular haircut that characterized women’s fashion in the 1920s—the latest women’s fashion was short hair, called a “bob.” Cartoonist Clifford Berryman’s familiar caricature, Mr. John Q. Public, looks at a fashion poster and comments: “Now if Uncle Sam would just bob the income tax return, Oh, Boy!”

Untitled, 07/02/1925 (National Archives Identifier 6011891)

Untitled, 07/02/1925 (National Archives Identifier 6011891)

 

Who knew that fashion could be so political?

Examine more “signature styles” and history-making signatures in our current exhibition, “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures,” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

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