American Boyhood Clothes: Frank Schoonover, 1880s

Figure 1.--Frank Schoonover at 10 years old wearing a dress. He seems to have worn it while playing outdoors and noy jusr for dressy foral wear.

Frank Schoonover was a famous illustrater in the Golden Age of Illustration. In the short autobiography included in a book, he talks about his youth and how much he loved the outdoors, spending much of his time in the woods, walking along streams and fishing. However, in spite of this, he had long hair about the sme time that Fauntleroy curls came in vogue and least on some occasions wore dresses.

My dear Miss Fuller:

Here is something about the why of my art beginning. I was born August 19, 1877 in a little village called Oxford in New Jersey. This was a mining town and iron ore was the product. My father had oversight of the small industry and the blast furnace. Was that something to remember! Eventually the family settled in Tren ton, New Jersey, about two blocks from the Delaware River. I had a boat and some minnow nets and traps. I caught minnows and kept them alive for sale to bass fishermen. This was a first business venture. Part of each summer was spent with my grandmother, who lived in Bushkill, Pike County, Pennsylvania.

I was supposed to help her because she lived alone. I don't believe I was of much help because I spent most all of the time along the Bushkill streams looking for things, just little fish and that sort of thing. I built little raceways along the bank and I had a whole lot of water wheels going. On some I had spools and a lot of thread and I could take this thread down the stream and tie a little boat on the string, start the water wheel and pull it up the stream. I also built a flat botiomed boat that leaked a lot. Well, my grandmother wondered about all this and kept asking what I was going to do when I grew up. That was quite a question. I told her I was not quite sure but I would do something that would have to do with the streams and trees. I really thought I would be a builder of bridges. just little bridges for one horse and wagon.

Of course I know now that this was the beginning of my making pictures of bridges and streams. I made pen and ink drawings. I did pretty well with houses, barns and little buildings. As I look at one of these now I realize that my father gave me a real bit of help with the perspective business. It was quite wonderful. The vanishing point was an established affair after we rigged up a pencil and notches and string. One end of the string was held in my mouth so that there was always the same distance from pencil to eye. A building could be two spaces high and a tree four or five.

It really worked out and I did well, as I say, with buildings. They were like blocks and that's the way I thought about them. I could not manage trees at all. I did not know what to do with masses. Downtown in Trenton I got some oil colors and started to paint. The first bit was a still life. Apples in a splint box. It's still about. Then as I said there was a boat in the river. There was a home-made easel rigged up in the back of the boat. I went into any little cove where no one could see me. I didn't want anyone around. There were several paintings made. Landscapes, I called them. Evenings now and then I kept on with the pen and inks. I copied Howard Pyle drawings, all I could find.

I went to a preparatory school in Trenton. My parents had an idea that I ought to go to Princeton eventually and study to be a minister. That would be in the nature of 8 years or more. Well, I tried the entrance examinations, but I lacked Greek. So I studied all summer with a minister and made out fairly well with it, even getting into the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the original. But mind you there was still that picture of making pictures of streams and bridges and trees. So I spent a lot of time on the river-the Delaware-in my boat looking around in the little inlets and making sketches by day and copies of Howard Pyle pen and inks at night.

Well, I finished the school in Trenton. That was in 1896. Bushkill again in the summer. Thinking about the fall and college and I did not seem to be very happy about it; I returned to Trenton and in a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer, a September issue, I read all about the offerings of Drexel Institute. There in Philadelphia at 32nd and Chestnut, it said that anyone with a desire for illustration could have the instruction in that kind of art under the tutelage of Howard Pyle.

That if the work in hand would pass the judgment of (great master to me) Howard Pyle. Well (and you can understand how this seemed to be an answer to it all) that was it. The main requirement to enter his lecture classes-Monday, Friday afternoons, and Saturday morning-was the product of imagination. Could you think of and make up a drawing of your own idea-in charcoal? At home in Trenton, I had been making a lot of pictures in just that way. The subjects were all incidents-so I called them-but later there was something added by Howard Pye -these ideas were to be thought of as facts. They were certainly facts to me. I had, drawings of facts that were a part of my life. Catching minnows with a net, bringing home a Christmas tree-that was a good one-so I was told later by H. P. because I had showed a covered bridge with its black opening and an owl in the tree. was good because it was very late in the day-snow on the ground-and the boy seemed to be afraid of the bridge and the owl. There were others-fishing through the ice, streams, little bridges, and a boy looking under a stone for nothing much Mr. Pyle looked over them all and said because of the creative thought he would admit me into the classes. I came into the group the day before Christmas 1896.

I was fortunate to win two summer scholarships at Chadds Ford. The second summer at Chadds Ford I illustrated two books secured for me by H. P. One A Jersey Boy in the Revolution and In the Hands of the Red Coats. Other books followed a long serial for Collier's, Cardigan, by Robert W. Chambers, then a set of illustrations for McClure's Magazine. For The Lane That Had No Turning "> by Sir Gilbert Parker, I went to Quebec and Cap Rouge for the commission. I lived at Cap Rouge and made a great many sketches in colored crayons. Sir Gilbert Parker greatly approved of all of this. I must have made some fifty small and large picture for his book.

After this I went to Scranton, Pennsylvania at the time the first great coal strike occurred. I lived in the home of one of the workers. Many drawings were made on the spot for the story called Children of the Coal Shadows.

Next came work for Scribner's in 1903, In the Open, by Mary Raymond Shipman

Unfortunately, there isn't any discussion of what he wore as a boy. I am sure that wearing long hair and dresses at 10 years of age, even on special occaisions, would have been remembered. I find this to be very unusual, but dresses made for boys as old as 6 or 7 were advertised in woman's magazine of the time. The author of the book doesn;t comment on it either.

Frank wears a dress with buttons up the front, something found mostly on boys' dresses. This dress is similar in style to the one worn by Forster. These two boy were also born at about the same time, 1877 and 1879, but an ocean apart. The two boys also had very different upbringing,

The question as to what Frank normally wore as a boy is rather intreaguing. As Frank like the oudoors so much, is it possible that he bouced around the country in overalls or knee pants and then having to get dressed up in a dress. One observer believes that his discription of his activities seems incompatible with wearing dresses, although this is just an opinion. On the other hand, I don't think he started school until about 10 which would allow his mother to keep him in dresses because he didn't associate on his on with other boys. An observer furthur speculates that the expression on his face makes me think that he might have been dressed in that outfit for that portrait, maybe, prior to getting his first haircut.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: June 12, 1998
Last updated: July 10, 2002