Currier and Ives were the printers for the common people in the 19th Century. For roughly fifty years their artists cranked out artwork which were then printed on lithographically. The subjects were varied including public figures, political cartoons, social commentary, news events, historical events, places, "snapshots" of life, book illustrations, reproductions of famous artworks and fabulous images of ships. The thousands of prints are a treasure-trove for understanding America in the 19th Century.
The image above is a classic example of a Currier & Ives social issue print, concerning women's liberation. The print shows the newly liberated "fairer sex" smoking cigars and cigarettes, wearing scandalous clothes, running for sheriff (Vote for Celebrated Man Tamer Susan Sharp-Tongue) and to the right a man is hen-pecked into taking care of baby. Currier & Ives don't create the male fears about women attaining equality but they capture many of them here. Basically the women would become more like men and force men into doing "women's work." In creating such an image Currier & Ives show us the long-term survivability of concepts regarding the advancement of women. On one hand the image is a reminder that we have come a long way but it clearly points an accusing finger that old fears die hard.
Currier & Ives produced some of the most denigrating art regarding racial and ethnic groups that American ever produced. There were many prints showing an imaginary place called "Dark Town" where minstrel show characters act out a variety of situation-comedy events. Similarly Currier & Ives were adept at stereotypical renderings of Native Americans, Chinese, Irish, Scotts, and other ethnic groups. We need to remember a time when such images were thought natural and humorous and then we need to turn that mirror on our own culture and ask if the current spate of hate postings are not an extension from these early roots.
I wonder what the people of the 22nd Century will say of us when they see our social issue art.