First American Women Painters

best-known Harriet Peale painting

First Professional Women in Art

In the nineteenth century, women artists signed their work with a first initial and last name to conceal their gender. Not until the second half of the 19th century did women artists make significant progress. In the United States, women gradually became a force on the American art scene, winning prestigious commissions and awards.

Image: Kaaterskill Clove by Harriet Cany Peale
This deep gorge in New York's Catskill Mountains inspired the Hudson River School of Art, our nation's first artistic style.

Harriet Cany Peale

Harriet Cany Peale (1800-1869) was born in Philadelphia, where she studied with well-known portrait and historical genre painter, Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860). In 1840 she married Peale and exhibited for the first time at the Artists' Fund Society that same year. Unlike most women artists of the time, she continued to paint and exhibit portraits and still lifes after she married Peale. They had no children.


Mary Young Pickersgill

woman who made the Star-Spangled Banner

Woman Who Stitched the Star Spangled Banner

Mary Young Pickersgill stitched the Star-Spangled Banner, the large flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the naval portion of the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. When he saw the flag still flying above the embattled fort the next morning, the sight inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that would become the national anthem of the United States of America.

Early Years
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania February 12, 1776, Mary Young was the youngest of six children born to William Young and Rebecca Flower Young. Mary's father died when she was two years old. To support her family, Rebecca opened a flag shop in Philadelphia. Beginning in 1875, she made the Grand Union Flag, also called the Continental Colors, for the Continental Army. The Grand Union Flag preceded the Betsy Ross flag and is considered the first American flag. Young later moved her family to Baltimore, Maryland, where she taught Mary the craft of flag making from a very young age.


Betsey Guppy Chamberlain

American-Native American mill girl

Native American Mill Girl

During the 1830s and 1840s, Betsey Guppy Chamberlain (daughter of an Algonquian woman) worked in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts and wrote stories for two workers' magazines. A brave and pioneering author, Chamberlain wrote the earliest known Native American fiction and some of the earliest nonfiction about the persecution of Native people.

Image: Betsy Guppy Chamberlain, right
With another Lowell Mill girl

Early Years
Betsey Guppy was born December 29, 1797 in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. She was the daughter of William Guppy and Comfort Meserve Guppy. She was of mixed race: American and Algonquian Indian. Betsey married Josiah Chamberlain on June 25, 1820, and they had two children; he died July 19, 1823. Unable to do the work alone, she was forced to sell their farm and work in the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts to support herself and her children. The mills paid good wages, but the hours were long.


Underground Railroad in New Jersey

Saving Slaves from Bondage in the South

Tens of thousands of fugitives from the slave states of Maryland, Virginia, and North and South Carolina found refuge in New Jersey. Most of them arrived in here by crossing the Delaware River under the cover of darkness. Slaves and the courageous people who aided them on their journey risked their lives for freedom. Quaker Abigail Goodwin was one of the figures whose work was instrumental in the success of the Underground Railroad in New Jersey.

map of stations on the Underground Railroad
Image: New Jersey Underground Railroad Map
Stations on the UGRR in New Jersey

New Jersey's path to abolition for all of its citizens was a rocky one. In 1804 New Jersey passed its first abolition law, An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. It freed all black children born on or after July 4, 1804, after serving an apprenticeship to their mother’s owner for 21 years for females and 25 years for males. A law passed by the state legislature in 1826 stated that fugitive slaves from other states who were residing or apprehended in New Jersey had to be returned to their owners.


Mary Blood Mellen

19th Century Landscape and Marine Artist

In recent years, Mary Blood Mellen has emerged as one of the most talented women artists in the years immediately preceding the Civil War. She was an American landscape and marine artist who collaborated with her mentor, American Luminist master Fitz Henry Lane. Mellen was one of the few women painters associated with the Hudson River School - a group of artists working in nineteenth-century New England. She is known for her renderings of nostalgic landscapes and seascapes in the Gloucester, Massachusetts area. Research reveals no image of Mellen.

painting by Mary Blood Mellen
Image: Taking in the Sails
By Mary Blood Mellen

Early Life
While information about her life is always somewhat sketchy, Mary Blood Mellen was likely born in 1817 in Sterling, Massachusetts, where she attended a girl's academy and studied painting. Mary showed an early interest and aptitude in art and learned to paint with watercolors at boarding school. In 1840, she married the Reverend Charles Mellen, and the couple lived in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Mellen was a Universalist minister at several Massachusetts churches during his career.