Many people today point to a recent increase in female gun ownership, however, their involvement in firearms history dates back centuries. During a rise in commercial advertising in the late 19th century, women were marketed to as consumers for many products, including firearms. 

These ads often placed women into categories, those who arm themselves for self-defense, mothers protecting children, and competitive shooters. It also reinforced stereotypes that continue today: if you learn to shoot well, you will be attractive to men. In addition to advertising, the firearms industry created entire lines of guns for women. In 1902, Smith & Wesson marketed an entire line of pistols to women, known as the Ladysmith.

Here are ten examples of firearms ads targeting and/or featuring women from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Keep in mind, these ads may be considered offensive by today’s standards, and perhaps by theirs, but they should always be viewed in consideration of the culture of the time.

Exhibit

“The Summer Girl is always surrounded by admirers” Forest and Stream Magazine July 23, 1898

Credit Line: Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA; Gift of Roy Marcot, Tucson, Arizona. MS111 Roy Marcot Firearms Advertisement Collection, MAR.FORS.1898.7.23
Times haven’t changed much. Girls with guns get all the guys. This advertisement for a Marlin Model 1897 Rifle shows a female shooter showing off her bullseye target to male onlookers.
“Papa says it won’t hurt me” McClare’s Magazine July 1, 1903 & Saturday Evening Post 1913

Credit Line: Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA; Gift of Roy Marcot, Tucson, Arizona. MS111 Roy Marcot Firearms Advertisement Collection, IVJ.MCM.1903.7 & Google Images
This Iver Johnson advertisement from 1903 proclaims “accidental discharge impossible” which is probably good since the illustration depicts a child who has the muzzle of the barrel pointed straight at her eye. These types of ads depicting women and children were common in the early 20th century. Johnson continued that same type of advertising ten years later. At least with the later ad, they decided to follow the rules of firearms safety.
“Papa says it won’t hurt me” McClare’s Magazine July 1, 1903 & Saturday Evening Post 1913

Credit Line: Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA; Gift of Roy Marcot, Tucson, Arizona. MS111 Roy Marcot Firearms Advertisement Collection, IVJ.MCM.1903.7 & Google Images
This Iver Johnson advertisement from 1903 proclaims “accidental discharge impossible” which is probably good since the illustration depicts a child who has the muzzle of the barrel pointed straight at her eye. These types of ads depicting women and children were common in the early 20th century. Johnson continued that same type of advertising ten years later. At least with the later ad, they decided to follow the rules of firearms safety.
“The Story of Stevens” National Sportsman Magazine September 1, 1905

Credit Line: Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA; Gift of Roy Marcot, Tucson, Arizona. MS111 Roy Marcot Firearms Advertisement Collection, STEV.NS.1905.9
In 1905, Stevens not only used a female model for their ad but depicted her sighting the gun with her bird hunting dog.
“It embodies the famous SMITH & WESSON qualities of beauty, grace, and extreme care in make-up and finish” Munsey Magazine July 1, 1907

Credit Line: Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA; Gift of Roy Marcot, Tucson, Arizona. MS111 Roy Marcot Firearms Advertisement Collection, SMW.MM.1907.7
It was relatively common for women to be target shootings, especially in the wake of icons such a Annie Oakley, who also during her life set up shooting clubs and training for women. In this ad, it projects feminine beauty standards onto the firearm itself.
“Any woman can learn how to use a SMITH & WESSON in a few hours…she will no longer feel a sense of helplessness when male members of the family are absent” The Outing Magazine August 1, 1907

Credit Line: Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA; Gift of Roy Marcot, Tucson, Arizona. MS111 Roy Marcot Firearms Advertisement Collection, SMW.OM.1907.8
This advertisement set a different tone than the ones marketing to female target shooters. Advertisers then and now sometimes take a more fear-based approach to self-defense.
“Isn’t it a Beauty?” Outer’s Book October 10, 1914

Credit Line: Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA; Gift of Roy Marcot, Tucson, Arizona. MS111 Roy Marcot Firearms Advertisement Collection, MAR.OB.1914.10
Back to the sporting world, this Marlin advertisement depicts a woman and her slide action shotgun with the caption, “Isn’t it a beauty?”
“Now you won’t feel afraid” Coller’s National Weekly May 11, 1918

Credit Line: Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA; Gift of Roy Marcot, Tucson, Arizona. MS111 Roy Marcot Firearms Advertisement Collection, IVJ.CNW.1918.5.11
This advertisement starts out with, “The thoughtful soldier gives his wife a good automatic revolver before he joins the colors.” This Iver Johnson ad is more directed at soldiers going off to war.
“It’s the greatest sport of man or woman” Rod and Gun, Canada June 1, 1919

Credit Line: Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA; Gift of Roy Marcot, Tucson, Arizona. MS111 Roy Marcot Firearms Advertisement Collection, DCC.RGC.1919.6
This Dominion Shotgun Shells advertisement highlights the interest of sport shooting for both men and women. It doesn’t rely on gimmicks, but instead treats both as equals on the range.
“Mrs. Harrison says that any woman can break more targets with an Ithaca” National Sportsman October 1, 1921

Credit Line: Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA; Gift of Roy Marcot, Tucson, Arizona. MS111 Roy Marcot Firearms Advertisement Collection, ITH.NS.1921.10
This advertisement uses a female competitive shooter in its advertising. There is a long lineage of female competitive shooters in American history. Following in the footsteps of Annie Oakley, this shooter is used to help sell the product to women although it would be nice to know her first name.
“Our women-folk are mighty independent now-a-days” Unknown, 1926

Credit Line: Google Images
This advertisement is the latest on this timeline and strongly perpetuates a damsel in distress narrative. It’s marketed more to men for women, claiming the firearm is safe…“even for her.”

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