Little Lulu Goes to Harvard

Family donates artist’s comic books, fan letters to Radcliffe

At age 71, she’s still a character that endures and endears—her dress is the same bright red, and her licorice locks haven’t lost their bounce.

Lulu Moppet, better known as the lively “Little Lulu” of the eponymous cartoon, has made her way across newspapers, silver screens, and lunch-box covers since she was first created in 1935. Now, the comic starlet has landed in Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library among a historical legion of America’s women.

The “Marge Papers,” a collection of drawings and documents that belonged to “Little Lulu” creator Marjorie Henderson Buell, were donated to the library this past July by her sons Lawrence and Frederick. Marge, as she signed her cartoons, died in 1993.

The collection donated by Cabot Professor of American Literature Lawrence Buell and his brother Frederick, an English professor at Queens College, includes fan letters, comic books, scrapbooks of high points in Lulu’s history, and a complete set of the newspaper cartoons.

When Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Drew Gilpin Faust found out that “Marge” was Buell’s mother, she suggested that he consider donating his mother’s work to Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library.

“I was a big Little Lulu fan when I was a kid,” Faust said. “It was a really exciting possibility. His mother was clearly a pathbreaker, both in her creativity in designing the cartoon, the artistry involved, and the proto-feminism in this tough little girl.”

Faust added that Marjorie Buell was also a pioneer in her entrepreneurship, which Nancy F. Cott, the library’s faculty director, said added to the collection’s significance.

“She’s interesting as an example of a woman in business, as well as a creative woman who got commercial success out of her creativity,” said Cott, who is also the Trumbull professor of American history.

The collection also includes Little Lulu merchandise and contracts that Marjorie Buell signed with Rand McNally, Milton Bradley, and Paramount Pictures.

In addition, the collection contains Marjorie Buell’s artistic projects before Little Lulu, including her first cartoon—drawn before age seven—350 pre-Lulu cartoons from 1920 to 1935, and a high school yearbook to which the cartoonist contributed as art editor.

The two brothers would sometimes watch their mother as she drew in the studio off her bedroom, Lawrence Buell recalled.

“If we stared for very long, she’d shoo us away (gently) so as not to break concentration,” Buell, a former dean of undergraduate education at the College, wrote in an e-mail.

The brothers did, however, receive advance copies of “Little Lulu” comic books before they went to print, he said.

Even though his mother never consulted him in the creative process, Buell wrote that his friends “would tease me about being Lulu’s brother, or being the model for her friend Tubby (which I wasn’t).”

Lulu’s first antics appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on Feb. 23, 1935.

“I think Lulu’s shrewd, whimsical, limit-bumping—but not delinquent—personality was the special appeal, especially for girls but for a number of boys as well,” Buell wrote. “The cartoon was basically designed (though I doubt my mother thought very self-consciously about this) to appeal to a mid-20th-century middle class smallish-town, traditional-values audience.”

Despite her small-town origins, Little Lulu has been translated into Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Turkish, and other languages, Lawrence Buell said.

The gutsy little girl has also been featured in Kleenex advertisements, starred in TV shows and animated shorts, and appeared on merchandise such as magic slates.

Buell said he doesn’t know why his mother christened her most famous creation “Lulu.”

“My mother had an aunt named Lulu (nickname for Louise), but that may be sheer coincidence,” he wrote.

If the American Heritage Dictionary is anything to go by, “Lulu” is a fitting name: “A remarkable person, object, or idea.”

­—Staff writer Lulu Zhou can be reached luluzhou@fas.harvard.edu.