Fanny Y. Cory

By Douglas G. Green

Reprinted from the “Baum Bugle” –Spring, 1973

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When Fanny Young Cory illustrated L. Frank Baum's The Master Key in 1901, she was beginning a successful career as a book, magazine, and newspaper illustrator.  Miss Cory said that she "got such a good start in the field of children's illustration . . . because I was the first woman to try it.  I wasn't as good an artist as some others, but I had more sense of humor." She was much too modest, for she was one of the finest illustrators of the early twentieth century.

A decoration by Miss Cory for The Enchanted Island of yew

Fanny Cory was born in Waukegan, Illinois, On October 17, 1877.  At the age of fourteen, she moved to Helena, Montana, where she attended school and took art classes from Mary C. Wheeler.  To earn money to support her ailing sister, she decided to become a professional artist and in 1895, she moved east to study at the Metropolitan School of Fine Arts aid the Art Students", League in New York City.  She lived in New Jersey with her older brother, J. Campbell Cory, a political cartoonist and, later, the author of The Cartoonist's Art, (1912).  

The standards at the New York schools were frightening to a girl whose only training had been in Montana.  She later remarked to Mary Wheeler "... I thought I was quite wonderful, but in New York they didn't think so. But by 1896, the quality of her work had improved and she decided to try to sell some drawings to St. Nicholas magazine.  She later recalled going through the receptionist's office, occupied by Tudor Jenks, and thinking in awe of Mary Mapes Dodge, Louisa May Alcott, and other great authors associated with St. Nicholas.  She walked fearfully into the editor's office; he was impressed with her samples and offered her twelve dollars for one.  "I was taken back," she said, "and hesitated to tell him I thought it too much. He kindly reduced it to ten dollars." Soon she was a regular contributor to Life, Scribner's Century, Harper's Bazaar, and The Saturday Evening Post.  Her main vehicle, however, remained St. Nicholas, published by the Century Company, and she remembered in 1972 that one day "Mr. Drake (editor of Century) caught up with me going down the hall … and putting his arm over [my] shoulder asked if [I] knew that [I] was called 'the Little Sister of the Century Company’." Her illustrations contributed markedly to the popularity of St. Nicholas.  One of Miss Cory's happiest memories was of a St. Nicholas contest to name the children's favorite artist.  "Everybody thought, including me that it would be [Reginald] Birch … but the children, bless them, voted for me." But she did have a dispute about one of the magazine's policies: "St. Nicholas was very pious in those days and I was-sometimes too brazen for the art editor, I think.  I'll never forget the time they made me lengthen the toga I put on a little Roman boy in an illustration for a story.  My version was too immodest

In July 1900, her work received the attention of the important magazine The Critic" which noted her excellent use of art nouveau decorations combined with her ability to put puckish touches of humor into her drawings: "she has fancy, brightness, and quaintness, and the faculty, which is not to be underestimated, of focusing these into timelessness and practical use." Her most popular magazine drawings were of charming children, whose sweetness was tempered by mischievousness.

Meanwhile, she was becoming a prolific book artist for many publishers.  Her earliest book--at least the earliest I have seen--Just Rhymes (1899) is too hurriedly illustrated to be memorable, but Yankee Enchantment and the charmingly titled The Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts, both published in 1900, are extremely attractive volumes.  The pen and ink pictures capture the timelessness of the finest art nouveau works, and a few of them are reminiscent of Howard Pyle.

How Fanny Cory came to illustrate stories by L. Frank Baum is not known.  In 1972, her daughter, Mrs. Sayre Cooney Dodgson, relayed my questions to Miss Cory, but it is not surprising that she no longer recalled details of events occurring more than seventy years before.  Baum was then living in Chicago, while the illustrator was still in New Jersey, and it is consequently unlikely that they ever met.  My belief--based on no evidence whatsoever--is that Baum was so impressed by her work in St. Nicholas that he asked The Home Magazine to have her illustrate its story, "The Bad Man." Since the story appeared in February 1901, Miss Cory must have drawn the pictures at the end of the previous year, when she was 23 years old.  Also in 1901, she illustrated Baum's The Master key.  This book was something of a departure for her; most of the-.line drawings and plates are of rough and ready teenagers rather than the fantasy scenes and the infants which she did so well.  Her pictures are, nevertheless, very good, but unfortunately Baum's publisher, Bowen-Merrill, bound the book in a depressing green cloth--"a binding" writes Russell MacFall in To Please a Child," so ugly that even the excellent color plates and text drawings by Fanny Y Cory did not make it any more alluring to a child's eye."

Miss Cory's next book for L. Frank Baum was The Enchanted Island of Yew (1903).  This was one of a series of books, including The Pete and Polly  Stories (1902), Daisie and Her Dog Snip in Fairyland (1903), and The Well in the Wood (1904), in which Fanny Cory produced lovely drawings in muted colors.  These books mark, I believe, a high point in early twentieth century book illustration.  The color plates in Yew contain dream-like fairy tale scenery with often a touch of humor in the characters of the foreground.

Fanny Young Cory --by herself

From the Critic, July 1900

At the end of 1903, probably a few months after completing her drawings for Yew, she left New Jersey and returned to Montana.  The editor of St. Nicholas gave her a copy of Owen Wister's The Virginian with the remark that she might soon find her own hero in the West.  He was a prophet, for on April 12, 1904, she married Fred W. Cooney, a rancher at Canyon Ferry near Helena.  The Cooneys lived on an 1800 acre ranch, where they raised three children, Sayre, Robert, and Ted.

During the early years of her marriage, Miss Cory continued illustrating books and magazines.  Her son, Dr. T. W. Cooney, recalls that she had a studio decorated with heads of elk, deer, and goat (Fanny Cory was fond of deer hunting).  Often she sketched outside.  As her family grew, she began withdrawing from regular work and by about 1910, she was illustrating only those books which had a special appeal to her.  Jackieboy In Rainbowland (1911) is beautifully illustrated, and in 1913, she produced her finest series of illustrations for The Fanny Cory Mother Goose.  The influence of Arthur Rackham, whom she greatly admired, is evident in her Mother Goose illustrations with their crowded detail and still muted but now complex use of colors.  Probably a few years later Miss Cory began an ambitious project: a "Fairy Alphabet" in elaborate colors.  She always believed that these drawings were her best work.  I have seen photographs of the pictures and agree with her family that the failure of any publisher to make them available is a great misfortune.

 Click on picture to view larger picture

Fanny Young Cory, 1900-1905

(Courtesy Sayre Cooney Dodgson)

By the middle 1920's, her children were old enough for college, but because of a depression in the ranching business the Cooneys could not afford the cost of education.  She therefore decided to begin a second career as a newspaper cartoonist.  She contracted with the Philadelphia Ledger syndicate in 1926 to draw the daily Sonnysayings cartoons.  This series concerned the misadventures of a little boy and his comments--or excuses.  Her drawings are much like her. earlier St. Nicholas pictures, but with a tendency toward sketchier shading.  Sonny was very popular, and in 1929 Fanny Cory wrote a book about him.  On June 22, 1935, King Features began distributing the series.  Later that year, the syndicate hired her to draw illustrations for Little Miss Muffet, a strip which successfully capitalized on the popularity of Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie.  Miss Cory was a much better artist than Gray, but she never enjoyed the Muffet series.  Except during its last few months, she did not write the stories, and three years after she began the strip she complained to an interviewer, "there are no gangsters, or divorces or anything like that in her adventures, so she must be a relief to mothers.  But sometimes I think she's too pure." Despite Miss Cory's feelings, Little Miss Muffet was popular enough to have a book of her own.

Fanny Cory's frontispiece for The book of Saints and Friendly Beasts

While working for newspapers, Fanny Cory wrote and illustrated a book filled with gentle humor about children.  Typical of her verses in Little Me (1936) is the following:

If God wouldn't keep his eye on me,

Day out and day in,

There's a lot of fun I'd have

Living in sin.

In 1956, when she was nearing the age of 80 and afflicted with arthritis and failing eyesight, she decided to retire.  On June 30, the final episodes of Little Miss Muffet and Sonnysayings appeared.  She still loved Montana, which had reciprocated by naming her Mother of the Year in 1951, but she decided to move away.  Her husband had died in 1946 and her home was soon to be flooded by the Canyon Ferry Dam. She moved to Camano Island, Washington, to be near her daughter and son-in-law, Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Dodgson.  For a number of years, she lived alone before spending her final days with the Dodgsons in Stanwood, Washington.  Though her physical problems increased, her mind remained sharp.  She died on July 28, 1972, two and a half months before her 95th birthday.

 

The above decorations are examples of Miss Cory's work for The Enchanted Island of Yew

Fanny Y. Cory was one of America’s great illustrators, and I consider it a great privilege to have been able to record her recollections during her last year.

--DOUGLAS G. GREENE

Much of the information in this article is from Miss Cory's family, Mrs. Sayre Cooney Dodgson, Mr. Robert Cooney, and Dr. T. W. Cooney.  I am grateful for their kindness and assistance.

D.G.G.


A Preliminary Checklist of Her Illustrated Books

By Fanny Young Cory, 1877-1972

Loomis, Charles Battell.  Just Rhymes.  New York: R. H. Russell, 1899.

Brown, Abbie Farwell.  The Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1900.

Loomia, Charles Battell.  Yankee Enchantments.  New York: McClure, Phillips, 1900.

Reid, Sydney.  Josey and the Chipmunk.  New York: Century, 1900.

Baum, L. Frank.  The Master Key.  Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill, 1901.

Tappan, Eva March.  Old Ballads in Prose.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1901.

Brown, Abbie Farwell.  A Pocketful of Posies.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin; 1902.

Carroll, Lewis.  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  Chicago: Rand, McNally, 1902.

Daskam, Josephine Dodge.  The Madness of Philip and Other Tales of Childhood.  New York: McClure, Phillips, 1902.

Wells, Carolyn.  The Pete and Polly Stories.  Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1902.

Baum, L. Frank. The Enchanted Island of Yew.  Indianapolis: Bobs-Merrill, 1903.

Loomis, Charles Battell.  Cheerful Americans.  New York: Henry Holt, 1903.  Illustrated by Cory and others.

Musson, Bennet.  Maisie and Her Dog Snip in Fairyland.  New York: 1903.

Bowman, Rowland C. Freckles and Tan, A Book of Humorous Verse.  Chicago: Rand, McNally, 1904.

Daskam, Josephine Dodge.  The Memoirs of a Baby.  New York: Harper, 1904.

FarJeon, B. L. Lucy and their Majesties, a Comedy in Wax. NewYork: Century, 1904.  Illustrated by F.Y. Cory and George Varian.

Loomis, Charles Battell.  More Cheerful Americans.  New York: Henry Holt, 1904.  Illustrated by Cory and others.  Reprinted by Holt in 1907 under the title Poe's "Raven" in an Elevator and Other Tales.

Taylor, Bert Leston.  The Well in the Wood.  Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1904.

Wells, Carolyn.  Folly for the Wise.  Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1904.  Illustrated by Cory and others.

Indian Stories Retold from St. Nicholas.  New York: Century, 1905 Illustrated by Cory and others.

Johnson, Burgas.  Pleasant Tragedies of Childhood.  Now York: Harper, 1905.

Our Baby Book.  Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1907.

Butler, Ellis Parker.  The Confessions of a Daddy.  New York: Century, 1907.

Gates, Josephine Scribner.  Sunshine Annie.  Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1910.

Hill, William L. Jackieboy in Rainbowland.  Chicago: Rand, McNally, 1911.

The Fanny Cory Mother Goose.  Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1913.

Cory, Fanny Y. "Ben Bolt," The Kid that You Were Yourself.  Chicago: The Publishers Feature Bureau, 1916.  A collection of episodes for a proposed cartoon series, distributed in pamphlet form to interested newspapers.  It is not known whether the cartoons actually were published in newspapers.

Muter, Gladys Nelson.  About Bunnies.  Chicago: P. F. Volland, 1924.

Cory, Fanny Y. Sonny Savings.  New York: E. P. Dutton, 1929.

Cory, Fanny Y. Little Me.  New York: Dutton, 1936.

Cory, Fanny Y. Little Miss Muffet. Racine: Whitman, 1936.  Big Little Book #1120, "based on the famous comic strip," and copyrighted by King Features Syndicate.

 

-DOUGLLS G. GREENE

I am indebted to the following people for contributing information appearing in the checklist: Ruth Berman, Robert Cooney, T. W. Cooney, Irene Fisher, David A. Hardie, Glen Hunter, Ruth McKee, and Dick Martin.

D.G.G.

 

This example of the Sonnysayings series is reproduced from the original drawing made available by Mr. Robert Cooney. It was published Oct. 27, 1927.


This page was created by Fanny Young Cory’s grandson –Bob Dodgson

Email comments, questions to dodgsonr@yahoo.com


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