Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Spacewomen of the Future (fixing spaceships + fighting aliens + charging across barren landscapes)

(Don Sibley’s cover for the November 1950 issue of Galaxy)

When we conjure the image of a 40s/50s science fiction pulp heroine we often imagine a character who has to be rescued by men from aliens, shrieks and clings to any man nearby, and is always in a state of undress.  I’ve included one cover, for the sake of comparison, that I find to be an exemplar of this type of sexist (and racist) depiction below (Alex Schomburg’s cover for the January 1954 issue of Future Science Fiction): white woman wrapped in only a towel stalked by an evil alien obviously painted with African-American facial characteristics (heavy on the sexual predation vibe) — the reader is supposed to buy into the racial stereotypes and thus be titillated by the fear she must feel.

I’ve selected a wide range of mostly pulp magazine covers depicting spacewomen of the future (I’ve loosely decided that this means women in space, in spacesuits) that tend to buck the trend (obviously, the artist’s depiction might differ from the author’s characterization).  I’ve refrained from calling them female astronauts because in the stories they might be women forced to put on space gear and trek across barren landscapes.  For example, Don Sibley’s cover for the November 1950 issue of Galaxy illustrates Frederic Brown’s story ‘Honeymoon in Hell’ where a newly wed couple is stranded on the moon.  The illustration is simply amazing!  The women repairs the spaceship while the husband brings extra oxygen.

These illustrious women lead the charge across barren landscapes (Laurence Steven’s delightful cover for the April 1951 issue of Super Science Stories), defend their spaceships from pink aliens (Earle K. Bergey’s cover for the December 1952 issue of Space Stories), compute the courses for spaceships (Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the November 1953 issue of Galaxy), drive lunar skimmers while men toss grenades (Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the 1958 edition of Brigands of the Moon (1930), Ray Cummings), and even shoot aliens while skiing! (Earle K. Bergey’s cover for the December 1946 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories).

Many of the pulp-era spaceswomen I’ve found are still sexualized for the sake of titillating the fourteen year old demographic.  The number one way to achieve this was to invent revealing spacesuits.  Some are quite hilarious: a bikini spacesuit wouldn’t be terribly useful in the void of space nor would trekking across rocky planets in a miniskirt be comfortable.  Artists often go to great length to still show skin despite wearing more “realistic” full body spacesuits — two of the covers below depict women draped in transparent plastic (it must be futuristic incredibly thin puncture proof plastic!)…

*note: sometimes the spacewoman is far in the background and hard to see.  A few of the covers might not fit the theme perfectly, alas…

I have multiple more images lined up for a Part II.  As aways, if you know of any I’ve missed let me know.

What are your favorites?

Enjoy!

(Alex Schomburg’s cover for the January 1954 issue of Future Science Fiction)

(Laurence Steven’s cover for the April 1951 issue of Super Science Stories)


(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the March 1953 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories (UK edition)

(Earle K. Bergey’s cover for the December 1952 issue of Space Stories)

(Earle K Bergey’s cover for the Summer 1951 issue of Fantastic Story Magazine)

(Karel Thole’s cover for the 1970 edition of Farewell, Earth’s Bliss (1966), D. G. Compton)

(Kelly Freas’ cover for the April 1956 issue of Fantastic Universe Science Fiction)

(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the June 1958 issue of Infinity Science Fiction)

(Earle K. Bergey’s cover for the December 1941 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories)

(Earle K. Bergey’s cover for the August 1951 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories)

(Earle K. Bergey’s cover for the December 1946 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories)

(Earle K. Bergey’s cover for the Winter 1946 issue of Startling Stories)

(Uncredited cover for The Year’s Best Science Fiction Novels (1952), ed. Everett F. Bleiber and T. E. Dikty)

(Milton Luros’ cover for the August 1952 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly)

(Milton Luros’ cover for the November 1952 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly)

(Milton Luros’ cover for the Febuary 1952 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly)

(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the April 1960 issue of Galaxy)

(Walter Popp’s cover for the Spring 1954 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories)

(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the November 1953 issue of Galaxy)

(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the 1958 edition of Brigands of the Moon (1930), Ray Cummings)

(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the 1962 edition of Secret Agent of Terra (1962), John Brunner)

(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the 1958 issue of Science Fiction Adventures)

(Norman Saunders’ cover for the February 1951 issue of Marvel Science Stories)

(Malcolm Smith’s cover for the 1951 edition of Space on My Hands (1951), Frederic Brown)

(Claude Newkirk’s cover for the November-December issue of Galaxy Magazine)

(Jack Gaughan’s cover for the September-October issue of Galaxy Magazine)

(A. Leslie Ross’ cover for the December 1952 issue of Dynamic Science Fiction)

(Hubert Rogers’ cover for the July 1940 issue of Astounding Science Fiction)

 (Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the 1964 issue of I Want the Stars (1964), Tom Purdom)

(Ed Valigursky’s cover for the June 1958 issue of Amazing Science Fiction Stories)

(Ron Turner and Reginald Heade’s cover for the 1956 edition of One Against Tomorrow (1956), Hank Janson)

(Malcolm Smith’s cover for the 1950 edition of Worlds Within (1950), Rog Phillips)

For similar posts consult the INDEX

29 Replies to “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Spacewomen of the Future (fixing spaceships + fighting aliens + charging across barren landscapes)”

      1. Rider Haggard’s book has stereotypes galore – lost world, primitive African natives, mysterious white queen etc…Hopefully you can find one with stunning cover art too! Wasn’t the ’35 film version set in the Arctic?

  1. Love the bikini spacesuit – I always the thought the chainmail bikini was the ultimate in ludicrousness, but this proves me wrong! The Emshwiller Galaxy cover with the spaceshipwrecked woman I really liked, that’s how you get a spacesuit and a bikini into one picture. My favourite, though, is probably Malcolm Smith’s cover for Space on My Hands – Norman Rockwell in space! (And isn’t that dog just cute? How about an “Animals in Spacesuits” cover art post some time?)

    1. I know! Spacesuits are hard to depict if the artists want skin showing! I love the plastic tarp spacesuits for this very reason…. so hokey. Or, just women floating in space with exposed limbs…

      Perhaps, if I find enough images. My favorite dog depiction is Valigursky’s cover for the April 1958 issue of Amazing.

  2. Looks like Earle Bergey used the same model for two covers – Thrilling Wonder Stories Aug ’51 and Fantastic Story Summer ’51.

  3. Great collection. The themes are classic 1950s. June Cleaver women. Hair always perfect. Makeup. Lipstick. Breasts prominent. Diaphanous suits. And humanoid aliens that would (how bizarre is that) have sexual interest in human females.

    1. I disagree (in part) — a few of these covers, the first one for example, does not adhere to very many of your descriptors and it’s early early 50s…. But yes, the artists still attempt to fit many of those features in despite the fact that they are wearing spacesuits.

      I included that one example (humanoid alien wanting to have sexual relations with the woman) as a point of comparison with many of the covers I selected, from earlier or the exact same era, which are distinctly different.

      1. Disagreement noted :). Actually, what prompted me to reply was when I saw only the very first cover. The woman clearly is wearing lipstick. I was going to comment on that alone – before I even started scrolling down. — I would never want to challenge the author of a blog with “Science Fiction Cover Art” in the title about science fiction cover art.

        Love your site.

        1. Thanks for the kind comments. But, I don’t have Science Fiction Cover Art in the title of my blog (of the post, yeah).

          Haha — no problem. But why write a comment without reading what I wrote? I try to make it clear that I’m selecting many that buck general cliches.

  4. The contrast between the woman-as-sex-symbol vs. the woman basically wearing the same outfit as a man and doing otherwise dangerous things is fascinating, but I think what really intrigues me are those where the women are portrayed in reasonable outfits (albeit with some pretty unusual helmets at times) but still basically just a damsel in distress.

    You could do a PhD on this collection of covers… especially if you include some of the women-inside-of-a-mans-head images from before.

    1. Many are still damsels in distress, I agree — but, then covers like the first one, where she’s actually fixing the spaceship, or physically shooting intruders is a very male role. Yes, she’s in distress, but the normal adventure sort of distress, but she’s taking things into her own hands. Obviously, many of the ones I included definitely adhere to the classic model.

      1. Indeed! That’s why I like this so much. Many of the women are shown as competent equals… many are not. It shows a brilliant snapshot of the change in women’s roles and their depiction in Science Fiction.

        I think what amazes me the most is how some of them even at this date are really quite progressive, and yet so much Science Fiction as late as the early 70’s still depicts women as props to the story.

  5. Earle Bergey seemed to have favored red heads, here’s two more to check out, if you can find them.

    Future Science Fiction – May-June ’50 – though this one is more on the damsel in distress theme, the outfit looks a lot like the famous Princess Leia bikini. Here the redhead is being saved by our intrepid male hero from what looks like some kind of mechanical octopus machine.

    Thrilling Wonder Stories – Aug ’50 – looks like the same woman from the above issue, same outfit too. This time she’s in charge, shooting some guy with what looks like a .38. Looks like she has a clone of the guy on an operating table behind her.

    1. Haha, yeah, I like the mechanical octopus creature but other than that, I find them sort of average…. And definitely of the traditional depiction of pulp damsels 😉 The second cover will fit my running theme of On The Doctor’s Table (I had a Part I a while back) — a sort of creepy theme….

  6. These are some great covers. I’d take them all for my collection, for sure. I think my favorite is the first one you posted. Sibley’s art is great and the magazine staff didn’t ruin it by layering over it with a lot of print. I think they did a fantastic job of leaving the image mostly intact and it really is an outstanding piece.

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