Obscurity of the Day: The Young Lady Across the Way

Two employees of the Ohio State Journal got together and came up with this long-running single-panel feature, The Young Lady Across the Way. The artist was Harry J. Westerman, who was their editorial cartoonist, and the writer was Robert O. Ryder, who was, as they said in those days, a paragrapher, which means a writer of opinion pieces, light items, and other fluffy stuff.

The panel broke some new ground. It was single-column, a rarity in the day it was created, and it featured the malapropisms of a stylish, pretty, but slightly dim damsel, very much in the same fashion as the much later debuting Flapper Fanny, Rolls Rosie and others.

That’s what I can tell you for sure. From there on, the details get a little murky. The first problem is that for the longest time I believed that the feature began in July 1913. I have two papers that started it then — figured I was good to go. Only problem is that Alex Jay just shot a rather large hole in that theory with the information that there were two books of the cartoons published in 1908! Okay, back to the drawing board. Now my theory is that the feature was picked up for syndication by George Matthew Adams Service in 1913, but was apparently running in the Ohio State Journal at least as early as 1908*. Saying any more than that will require some microfilm research of the 1900s Ohio State Journal, which I have not reviewed as yet. I do know, however, that the feature moved from Adams to the McClure Syndicate in 1919, so I do have something worthwhile to contribute.

The next problem is the end date. The feature was never to my knowledge advertised in the E&P yearbooks for some reason, so they’re no help. As best I can tell the feature stopped being produced in 1928. But that is hard to say for certain because both McClure and Adams sold off their backstock of the panels to reprint syndicates even before they stopped producing new material, and you can easily find the feature running into the 1930s in smaller papers. But the material I find in bigger papers up to 1928 looks to me like first-run material — the references seem timely, and the reproduction isn’t muddy and full of type lice, as is often the case with the reprint material.

Next question that bothers me is that I’ve never seen Robert Ryder credited on the panel in the newspaper — only in the books of 1908 and 1913. So it could well be that he didn’t have anything to do with it after a certain point. But I dunno. Well, hopefully Alex Jay will make up for all this uncertainty with some hard facts for us tomorrow, when his Ink-Slinger Profile of Harry Westerman is the post of the day.

* Allan sez, in 2015: I’ve since found a late 1907 newspaper running just the caption from a Young Lady… cartoon, so start date has been moved back another year. 

4 comments on “Obscurity of the Day: The Young Lady Across the Way

  1. I have both of the 1908 books, and they are fairly slight — each is about 4 by 5.75 inches, and the art is likely the size that the feature appeared in the Journal. Both books are copyrighted 1908 by Robert O. Ryder, and one also adds "The Young Lady Across the Way Publishing Company," which sounds as if Ryder published these on his own nickel. Westerman's art is markedly different from your samples, as well — it's more a take on the fashion of the day as popularized by C.D. Gibson.

  2. Hi Frank —
    Westerman kept his 'young lady' up-to-date in both fashions and drawing style. The samples shown here are all from the 20s. It would be interesting to see a 1908 sample or two if you can send scans.

    Interesting that you have both of these scarce books — was it a result of collecting the work of Westerman or Ryder?


  3. Allan, just Westerman — and I am in Ohio. Columbus used to have a few good used and rare bookstores, but as with most towns they're becoming more and more scarce. I also have Westerman's lone political cartoon collection and a couple of his originals. And what I didn't note in the first post was that one of the '08 books is signed by both Ryder and Westerman.

  4. I found this post through my research on James Thurber. Ryder was a huge influence on him, and Thurber biographer Harrison Kinney devotes a chapter ("That Man from Franklin Avenue") to him in "James Thurber: His Life and Times."

    Ryder was an editor of the Ohio State Journal, a rival to the Columbus Evening Dispatch, where Thurber worked for a few years in the early 1920s. Ryder wrote a daily column, and a Sunday one called "Round About Ohio." He also wrote paragraphs, usually consisting of humorous observations, that filled out the bottom of the page in lieu of a blank space.

    As for "The Young Lady Across the Way," Kinney wrote that Ryder started the feature in the "early 1900s." Thurber even took one of his captions ("They always succeed in making a girl who is as pure as the driven snow sound less interesting than one who is no better than she ought to be") and used a variant in a 1938 New Yorker cartoon.

    Thurber devoted a chapter to Ryder in "The Thurber Album," and claimed that he was as great a humorist as Mark Twain or E.B. White, which is laying it on a bit thick.

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