Was Georgia O’Keeffe a Feminist?

Feminism has never been a black-and-white concept, but today’s debates on the “F-word” have revealed just how complicated it can be.

For Professor Linda Grasso (York College, The Graduate Center, CUNY), few historical figures inhabit that complexity as well as Georgia O’Keeffe, whose large-scale flower paintings and success in a male-dominated field have endowed her with an enduring feminist legacy.

Grasso’s book, Equal under the Sky: Georgia O’Keeffe and Twentieth-Century Feminism, charts O’Keeffe’s relationship with U.S. feminist movements from the 1910s to the 1970s.

Photograph of Georgia O'Keeffe, ca. 1935.
Georgia O’Keeffe, ca. 1935. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten. Beinecke Library © Van Vechten Trust.

Grasso turned to her training in American studies and literary history, lending a new perspective to territory previously staked by art historians. After combing through women’s history archives as well as boxes of fan mail to O’Keeffe (including birthday cards, letters from soldiers, and pre-smartphone selfies), Grasso concluded that O’Keeffe indeed ran hot and cold on feminist politics. She was even considered anti-feminist at times, Grasso admits, noting that “women discerned her ambivalence and responded to her in kind.”

Yet Grasso believes O’Keeffe embodied feminism in her work and daily living. “Her greatest contribution to feminism wasn’t in terms of advocacy or petitioning, but rather in the ways she devoted her whole life to making art, which still continues to inspire creativity that can lead to feminist activism.”

Beyond SUM

Book Cover: 'Equal under the Sky: Georgia O'Keeffe & Twentieth-Century Feminism' by Linda M. Grasso
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Equal under the Sky: Georgia O’Keeffe & Twentieth-Century Feminism
University of New Mexico Press, 2017

Work By
Linda M. Grasso (Professor, English) | Profile

Colleges & Schools
The Graduate Center
York College

Bonus Content
Georgia O’Keeffe’s Tangled Feminist Roots

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