“Likes to Draw Pictures:” Mary Flanigan Gauerke

March 13th, 2020

By John Marks, Curator of Collections

photo of a young woman

High School yearbook photo of Mary Flanigan Gauerke.

Women cartoonists have always been an industry minority. Mary Flanigan Gauerke was a successful freelance cartoonist from the 1950s to the 1980s. She may have been the only woman to sell cartoons to Hugh Hefner and William F. Buckley, Jr. at the same time.

Mary’s family moved to Geneva when she was one year old. Her father worked for Seneca Kraut & Pickling Company, which he purchased in 1938. The business passed to Lon Flanigan, Jr. in 1960 and Mary served as a director.

Mary graduated Geneva High School in 1944. Her yearbook entry said, “A keen sense of humor…Likes to draw pictures….” A 1967 Geneva Times article had “the rest of the story.” A teacher discovered “a batch of her drawings…which included some caricatures of the faculty and staff” that “were not altogether flattering.” Mary received a stiff reprimand after the adults had a good laugh.

woman drawing at a deskMary specialized in one-panel, or “gag”, cartoons. Magazines and newspapers used them wherever there was space. Publications might buy the rights to the gag and have it drawn by staff artists. In 1955 Playboy bought two gags for ten dollars each. Hugh Hefner wrote Mary that “this isn’t meant as any sort of negative reaction to your own work.” Hefner continued to buy cartoons from her over her career. The New Yorker also purchased her ideas to be redrawn. In late 1956 the Geneva Daily Times noted that the magazine printed one of her original works.

Freelance success depended on selling panels to many publishers. I don’t know if a complete list exists of publications that printed Mary’s cartoons. Beside Playboy and The New Yorker, others included Wall Street Journal, Family Circle, Gourmet, True, McCall’s, and Look.

drawing of three women sitting around a table and one woman standing

Cartoon by Mary Flanigan Gauerke

William F. Buckley, Jr.’s conservative magazine National Review was a steady client for Mary. Patricia Buckley wrote, “Mary Gauerke’s first cartoon arrived over the transom in January 1966 and was published in an early February issue. It was a rare issue of NR that went to bed anytime in the next 10 or 15 years without a distinctive Gauerke drawing.”

In 1969 Mary began a nationally syndicated, six days a week panel called “The Alumnae.” There were four characters representing women of the period. There was a young woman “who live[d] only to be dressed up”; an avant-garde radical; a “clubwoman” and organizer; and a housewife. The syndicate’s promotional material said, “These amusing gals are right out of today’s contemporary crowd – – the young women you see around you every day.” The panel ran from September 1969 to April 1976.

drawing of people standing at a party

Cartoon by Mary Flanigan Gauerke



Mary continued to work through the 1970s and 1980s. She slowed down due to illness, and passed away from heart failure in 1989. Her name pops up on the Internet in dictionaries of women cartoonists, but there hasn’t been a collection of her work.

6 responses to ““Likes to Draw Pictures:” Mary Flanigan Gauerke”

  1. John LaBuff says:

    Is this the Mary Flanigan that sang with the St . Cecelia choir in Trinity Church?

    1. Anne Dealy says:

      Unfortunately we do not know the answer to that. Perhaps a reader will be able to let us know.

  2. Charlie Bauder says:

    Great article John. To answer john LaBuff’s question, This is probably the Mary Flanigan who sang at Trinity. The Flanigan’s lived at 493 South Main across the street from Trinity.

    1. Anne Dealy says:

      Thanks Charlie. I ought to have known that you would know!

  3. DeEtte Thomas says:

    I have a cartoon by Mary from 1973 and the character has my name. It’s such an unusual name and I just wonder where she got it.
    The name is DeEtte

  4. Carl Gauerke says:

    DeEtte was her stepmothers name, msny of her characters were named after real people she knew as an inside joke…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *