National Museum of Women in the Arts
Blanche Ames
February 18 1878 - March 01 1969
Photograph of Blanche Ames, ca. 1895, unknown photographer, courtesy of Commonwealth of Massachusetts Borderland State Park Collection, Easton/Sharon, MA, USA
Place of Birth:
Phonetic Spelling:
blanch aimz
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Work Type/Media:
Drawings and prints, Painting
Artistic Role(s):
Cartoonist, Draftsperson, Illustrator, Oil Painter, Painter, Portraitist, Watercolorist
Artist's Biography:
Blanche Ames was a painter, inventor, women’s rights activist, orchid illustrator, and cartoonist among other things. She was an intellectual artist whose preoccupation with optical effects and color theories combined her love for art and fascination with scientific methodology.

Born in Lowell, Massachusetts to a prominent family, Ames was a thoroughly modern woman for her time. Her father, a Civil War General, US Senator, and the Governor of Mississippi, afforded his children the best available education. In 1900, Blanche married Oakes Ames (of no relation), a botany instructor at Harvard also from a wealthy and prominent family dedicated to public service. Together they designed and built their home called Borderland—a spectacular stone mansion surrounded by 1500 acres of farmland in North Easton, Massachusetts.

Ames’s studio, on the third floor of Borderland, was where she painted portraits of prominent men and women, carefully illustrated orchids for her husband’s scholarly works, and drew biting political cartoons. The loose brushstrokes and light colors of her paintings are Impressionist in style. Her portraits capture an accurate and sensitive representation of her sitters, while her landscapes document her travels around the world. In collaboration with her husband, Ames created intricately detailed drawings of orchids for over fifty years to accompany his groundbreaking work in orchidology. The Ameses traveled to Florida, the Caribbean, the Philippines, and Central and South America to study Orchidicae, and in 1947 published Drawings of Florida Orchids, which included sixty-one plates. The couple also jointly developed complex scientific charts using watercolors that are still in use today.

Never failing to voice her opinion or set down her ideas, Ames also wielded her artistic talents as an activist and engineer. The deeply political and outspoken feminist was loudly critical of the Catholic Church’s prohibition of birth control, publishing scathing political cartoons in major magazines and newspapers. She co-founded the Birth Control League of Massachusetts in 1916 and was also the president of the New England Hospital for Women and Children. For her Borderland estate, Blanche designed dams and ponds with detailed diagrams. She even invented a method of ensnaring enemy airplanes during World War II.

The breadth and intensity of Ames’s career demonstrate her lifelong dedication to art and public service and her endless creativity and spirit.

Other Occupation(s):
Activist, Director (Administration), Editor, Engineer, Inventor, Suffragette, Traveler, Writer
Place(s) of Residence:
North Easton
Where Trained/Schools:
Smith College, Northampton, MA, USA (1895-1899)
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Award of Merit, Board of Trustees, New York Infirmary, New York, NY, USA (1959)
Earliest exhibition:
A Study in Textures, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Exposition, Philadelphia, PA, USA (1913)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Artful Advocacy: Cartoons from the Woman Suffrage Movement
Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987-1997
Artist retrospective(s):
Blanche Ames: Artist and Activist, Brockton Art Museum, Brockton, MA, USA (1982)
Related places
North Easton (died at)