Curator‘s Comments

Marnie Anderson, Associate Professor of History, Smith College

Smith College President Kathleen McCartney's op-ed on CNN.com [March 15, 2013] draws attention to the possibilities and constraints of the modern period for women, especially women as mothers.  While McCartney is particularly focused on working parents in the contemporary US, this woodblock print highlights similar issues in an entirely different context, late nineteenth-century Japan where women faced unprecedented opportunities and constraints.

Here we see the Meiji Empress and her attendants dressed in Western attire.They had a starring role in Japan's modernization, demonstrating that Japan had attained a successful level of "civilization."  Yet at the very same moment, women were denied access to the imperial throne for the first time in Japanese history.

Yoshu Chikanonu. Japanese, 1838–1912

The Emperor and the Empress Meiji with Prince Haru, the Future Taisho Emperor, 1888

Woodcut on paper.

Purchased with the Carlyn and George Steiner (Carlyn Koch, class of 1967) Fund, in honor of Joan Koch Smith.

ID Number: SC 2006:43