When I blogged about Jillian Keenan’s spanking article in Salon, I also noted with interest that Salon used this public-domain spanking image to catch the eye at the head of the article:
Slate captioned it “From Vanity Fair’s “Bifurcated Girls” special issue, June 6, 1903.” My spanko spidey-sense immediately began to tingle; I make a minor hobby of chasing down vintage pop-cultural spanking references in order to see whether there’s more spanko goodness to be found. And sure enough, my efforts were rewarded. Although I wasn’t able to locate a full scan of that magazine in the Internet Archive or elsewhere, I’m fairly sure I turned up the web resource that Salon’s editorial people used to source the image. It’s a page at The Public Domain Review packaging and providing context for some selected scans to be found in the Wikimedia Commons, and there we learn a number of interesting things.
Not the same Vanity Fair of current fame, this was a version published by The Commonwealth Publishing Company of New York City, incorporated in February 1902 but which went bankrupt in April 1904.
Dian Hansen in the first volume of her History of Men’s Magazines (Taschen, 2004) discusses the “Bifurcated Girls” special issue and argues that this particular incarnation of Vanity Fair can be seen as the origin of the American girlie magazine:
While France had a well-established men’s magazine industry by 1900, America was just showing its ankles in 1903. A magazine called Vanity Fair (unrelated to the current incarnation) was the raciest thing around, and rooming house floozies the hotties of the time. In this New York, tabloid girls who drank like men might strip down to their petticoats and fall into bed together, exposing their corset cover and stockings to peeping male boarders. The famously loose morals of stage actresses made them popular subjects for these shenanigans, but the biggest thrill of all was bifurcation. “What?” one may well ask. Bifurcation, meaning “split in two”, referred to the contours of a woman’s legs revealed by her donning men’s trousers. Bifurcation was a regular and very popular feature in Vanity Fair, it’s popularity leading to Vanity Fair’s Bifurcated Girls.
But you all want to know: was there another spanking photograph? There was! And some supporting prose, too: