Rose O'Neill was born on June 25, 1874, in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Her second-generation-Irish father, William Patrick O’Neill, was a bookseller, art gallery owner, and Civil War naval veteran. Rose’s young life was spent in considerable luxury — the O’Neill‘s lived in a bountiful home poetically named the “Emerald Cottage.” This luxury was cut short when William O’Neill sold his business, relocating the family to the untamed wilds of Nebraska’s Great Plains.
The family found life in Nebraska to be far harsher than Thoreau’s idealized Walden Pond.
Patrick and Alice would move nearly 20 times during Rose’s childhood. Patrick O’Neill began traveling as far as Denver and Chicago to sell books. It was during this time that Rose’s drawing abilities became evident. She was only 13 years old when she won an art competition sponsored by the Omaha Herald. By the age of 19, Rose O’Neill was in New York City, sheltered by a convent, escorted by protective nuns as she went to prospective job interviews.
In time, she walked into the Manhattan headquarters of Puck magazine. Puck was the top men’s magazine of the late-19th century, entertaining its readers with considerable satire and political commentary. Rose walked out as Puck’s first female illustrator. In time, this inspiration would find form in her “Kewpies” (which launched a national merchandising phenomenon eclipsed only by Mickey Mouse) and in Rose’s “Sweet Monsters,” works espoused by none-other than Auguste Rodìn and heralded in two international exhibitions (Paris, 1921; New York City, 1922). No one said no to Rose O’Neill, lovely, talented and rich. She divided her time between her Bonniebrook; a Manhattan apartment; a Connecticut estate titled Castle Carabas; and a villa on the Isle of Capri, the Villa Narcissus.