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Uncovering [Childless] Women’s History: Pamela Colman Smith

November 9, 2017

When I was in college, I started to read Tarot cards. I found them fascinating and rich with history, archetypes, and symbolism. I eventually collected Tarot decks, at one time owning about 15. However, every Tarot reader, regardless of their love for other artwork, understands the importance of a single deck known popularly as the Rider-Waite tarot.


Except, the name for the Rider-Waite tarot doesn’t tell the whole story.




The artist who created the iconic images on the world’s first mass-market tarot deck was actually Pamela Colman Smith, a woman and an artist whose name was practically erased from history. Pamela was a biracial woman born in London in 1878 and raised by artists. 


She was the first popular tarot designer to create individual drawings for each of the suit cards. Previously, like a traditional deck of playing cards, they just had the number and the symbol on each one.  Game changer.


After the death of her mother, Pamela joined her father in a touring group traveling to the United States. For a brief period, she had a great life. She attended college for art in New York, but didn’t graduate. She went on to illustrate manuscripts for some pretty important people, including Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. She even started her own magazine.


No one knows much about her personal life. There