Rammer Jammer, UA’s campus magazine from the 1920s to the 1950s, often featured cover art that was surprisingly risqué for the time. Or was it?
I think we tend to see 1920s-1940s through the lens of the 1950s, with its heavily censored films (see “The Hays Code” at TV Tropes) and horribly wholesome television shows like Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best. We forget how much the early days of movies and television could be a bit like the wild west.
For example, a lot of people could tell you that, during the 1951-1957 run of I Love Lucy, Ricky and Lucy couldn’t sleep in the same bed or use the word “pregnant.” The fact that she was actually shown to be “expecting” was pretty daring. But I bet you didn’t know that the first show to depict a pregnancy, not to mention a couple that shared a bed, was before that — on Mary Kay and Johnny, in the late 1940s, a show now lost to history.
The 1940s are a confusing period to talk about. Sure, Hollywood movies weren’t allowed to show too much skin or bad guys getting away with their crimes, but it was also the period of bombshells like Mae West, Jean Harlow, and Veronica Lake. Perhaps it had to do with the uncertainty of WWII (1939-1945) or the end of the Great Depression. Or perhaps there was nothing odd about it at all; it just looks that way in hindsight, after the 1950s. Of course, it’s also possible we’re stereotyping the 1950s, too.
What’s certain: Rammer Jammer cover art usually echoes the trends of the era, especially in the depiction of the female form.
Before WWI, there was the Gibson Girl, created by Charles Dana Gibson.
She was a species of the New Woman, and she was a bit controversial (see “The Gibson Girls: The Kardashians of the Early 1900s” at mental_floss), but pop culture hadn’t seen anything yet.
The 1920s flapper was a new breed. Jazz Age illustrators like Russell Patterson and John Held Jr. immortalized these more daring women of the Roaring Twenties, often in an Art Deco kind of style. Their kin can be found on the 1920s covers of Rammer Jammer, beginning at its inception in 1925. Click on any image below to see a larger version.
If you’ve ever seen calendars that feature stylized illustrations of scantily clad pinups girls, like those of Alberto Vargas or Gil Elvgren, you maybe won’t be too shocked by the Rammer Jammer covers of the 1930s. Early in the decade, they seem to ride the line between being provocative and being realistic, depicting students in anything from modest long skirts to clinging gowns and underclothes. Later, they point to the movement toward head shots.
The 1940s see a transition to using photographs of real women rather than illustrations. Though the Vargas Girls and Elvgren Girls still held some sway, the Rammer Jammer staff still seems a bit torn between the modest co-ed (1940-1046) and the more provocative “Sweater Girl” (1947-1949).
Rammer Jammer ended its run in 1956. Before it did, it put out lots of pinup-style photos. On the October 1951 cover (below), the photograph is actually being tacked up onto the wall by an illustrated male student. There were girls as sweet as Betty Grable or as saucy as Bettie Page, whether in photos or drawings. Certainly changes my opinion of the supposedly bland, conservative 1950s!