A Southern Girl’s Duty to Mankind

Published:October 3, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

Yesterday, I posted a full-page advertisement for Woodbury Facial Soap, from 1949, featuring a “belle” from Albemarle County. By coincidence, I found another such ad later in the day—this one for Pond’s Cold Cream, from the Chicago Sunday Tribune of March 9, 1930, and starring a “Southern Belle” from Warrenton named Virginia Carter Randolph:

“A Southern girl’s duty to mankind is to make herself charming.” So says Miss Virginia Carter Randolph of the Randolphs of Virginia … The modern version of the traditional Southern belle, her life is one gay whirl of parties, dances, proms, and picnics. She is adorably pretty, with laughing blue eyes, gold-brown hair and fair skin exquisitely cared for.

The photographer here is Edward Steichen, a Luxembourg-born modernist who earlier had partnered with Alfred Stieglitz on the magazine Camera Work (1903–1917). He also painted and did graphic design, but apparently his work in advertising was interesting enough to warrant a whole book: Real Fantasies: Edward Steichen’s Advertising Photography (1997) by Patricia Johnston.

Johnston writes that the ad agency responsible for Pond’s Cold Cream had just discovered what is nowadays old hat—that “as a rule, the young outpull the old—even though the old are more socially exalted.”

An account executive explained, for example, that “pretty Betty Randolph in her ruffled organdie on the garden steps outpulled many better knowns.” Although this Steichen photograph seems ordinary to later eyes, the agency was pleased with its effectiveness, and Steichen, surprisingly, chose the seated version as one of the ten advertising photographs to be included in the 1929 monograph on his work, Steichen the Photographer.

That photograph, as seen above, is now at Harvard University. Johnston, however, remains unimpressed: “Steichen’s photograph … does little to distinguish [Randolph] or bring her to life; nor does he cast her as a great beauty. His image of her seems flat, a stereotype.”

As it happens, our old friends at Woodbury Facial Soap were experts at stereotypes, and according to Johnston they nabbed Steichen for their next campaign.

AFTER THE JUMP: Steichen in better form: Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson, and Anna May Wong