Women have been making maps for centuries and they have applied and developed new technologies. Maps became their visual presentations as they travelled new terrain, illustrated historical narratives and espoused social and political agendas. Women in the 20th century continued with their work but in larger numbers. An examination of the compelling maps created by North American women in the 20th century revealed their aesthetic mastery.
Before the women’s liberation movement, they did not have any access to technical training in cartography. According to Judith Tyner, professor emerita of geography at California State University, civil engineering that included topographic drafting was not a woman’s subject. However, this restriction did not stop women from pursuing cartography particularly those who have a background in the arts.
Louise E. Jefferson who grew up at the turn of the century learned calligraphy and drawing from her father, a calligrapher of the US Department of Treasury. Louise followed the footsteps of her father and made a career in commercial illustrations. She became one the greatest pictorial mapmakers of the early 20th century and broke records for being a woman of color in the field.
Louise’s early days as a professional artist was not easy with her freelance work at the YWCA providing her seventy-five cents each poster. There were racist reactions to her work and in 1936; the state of Georgia banned her black and white illustrations of a book of patriotic songs. In fact, the governor ordered copies of the illustrations to be burned.
Eventually the Friendships Press allowed her to do a series of pictorial maps of Africa, India, China and the US. The Americans of Negro Lineage was a remarkable map and it was drawn with careful and vivid detail. Some of the figures were identified on the map that was noticeably less cartoonish and less stereotypical than the creations of other pictorial mapmakers.
Map illustrations are also made by cartographers but their purpose is not actually for navigation but a skillful combination of creativity and information. Map illustrations are often referred to as bird’s eye view maps because it is crafted from a favorable vantage point.