And so, here I am. My eighth AtoZ Challenge.
When I think about it, it seems outlandish that it’s been so many years since first I took part in the challenge. But it has become a tradition here on my blog. One I truly enjoy – and it seems my readers enjoy too.
The challenge has changed over the years. When I first joined in 2015, it was rising. So many blogs took part that I never managed to visit them all. It has been a bit on the decline during these two years of the pandemic, which is probably quite normal. These are trying years.
In 2020, the challenge happened in the very first stages of the pandemic, and I remember so many blogs starting out addressing Covid and life in a pandemic world. Many of them fell off halfway through.
This is what I mean. The pandemic has drained our energy and has taken away our focus. It has demanded so much energy from us that everything else has become something we prefer not to think about.
Even the challenge has been affected. This year’s badge commemorates Jeremy Howkins, the official graphic guy who Covid took on January 3. I didn’t know Jeremy, but I want to participate in the commemoration because this is a community, after all, and I’m happy to be part of it.
Looks like the pandemic is receding now, but times are no easier. I never thought I’d see a pandemic in my lifetime. Now I don’t want to see a world war.
Let’s all hope it will not be.
But enough for these gloomy thoughts!
Whatever happens, April is approaching, like every year, and like every year, the AtoZ Challenge is too!
For everyone unfamiliar with it, the AtoZ Challenge is a blogging challenge created by Arlee Bird in 2009, when he challenged bloggers around the world to set aside the month of April, and blog every day except Sundays, following the letters of the alphabet. April 1 was for a post about a subject starting with A. April 2 was for a post on a subject starting with B. And so on.
When I joined the challenge in 2015, already it was a common practice that bloggers chose a theme for their posts. They would choose a topic they were passionate about and let all their posts in the challenge fall into that topic. Most bloggers taking part in the challenge do this today. It’s what I’ve done from the first time I took part.
So a tradition started that about a month before the challenge takes off, there will be a Theme Reveal, a post announcing what topic we’ll cover during the challenge.
And so here we are!
My themes have always revolved around the main subject of this blog: the 1920s, with only a few detours.
Here are my themes from past years:
2015 – The Roaring Twenties
2016 – Jazz Age Jazz (1920s Jazz as a Social Phenomenon)
2017 – Film Noir
2018 – Weimar Germany
2019 – Berliner Cabaret
2020 – Living the Twenties (1920s Global Change)
2021 – World War I
This year’s theme is one of my favourites, though admittedly, it has been a long while since I last blogged about it at some length. It’s really time to tackle it again.
ENTER THE NEW WOMAN
If you have a look at my archive, you’ll see many posts about women in the 1920s. That’s not only because it is a favourite subject of mine, but also because women’s social role in the 1920s changed drastically. We seldom talk about it as a revolution, like the one that happened in the 1960s, but really, it was something just like that.
Women’s role in the 1920s started to look a lot like what we are familiar with today. What we take for granted today.
Seeing women at university or in the workplace became a common sight, something society began to accept, although often begrudgingly. In a very real way, society still expected women to go back to their traditional role of wives and mothers once they married, even if it was increasingly accepted that they could ‘have some fun’ when they were young.
I find this aspect very interesting – the fact that contemporaries (and to some extent, even people today) think about the New Woman as just a young woman who wants to have fun. In fact, it was a lot more than that. And it becomes even clearer if we look at the entire arc of the history of the New Women.Enter the New Woman (#AtoZChallenge 2022) Theme Reveal – The New Woman of the 1890s-1920s was thought to be mostly about fun. She was a lot more than that. Click To Tweet
Who was the New Woman?
Like so many things before the mid-1900s, the origin of the term ‘New Woman’ is uncertain. But we do know that by 1894, an exchange between British writers Sarah Grand and Ouida in the North American Review presented that phrase and from there, the term became ever more popular and used.
From the very beginning, the ideals of ‘New Woman’ stood in opposition to the term ‘True Woman’, which described the Victorian ideal of femininity. The Victorian ‘True Woman’ was understood as associated with home and submission, and whether Victorian women were really like that or not, it is true that in the Victorian time, women’s life was limited in many ways. Women were the weaker sex, were fragile beings who needed protection, and were incapable of doing a wide range of activities, especially those traditionally performed by men. They were not expected to get an education (why would they ever need it?). They could not own a business (come on, women don’t have the mind for those things). They were not expected to be involved in politics and economics (let men do that, they are far more apt at the job). And, of course, women were not expected to work and become financially independent.
Thinking that women could involve themselves with any of this was not only preposterous but downright scary. If women started to get an education, to support themselves, and involve themselves in men’s activities, they would lose interest in being wives and mothers, and it would be the end of society.
It might steel us a smile today, but people were really worried about it back then.
Imagine the shock when women started to do just that!
It was not an overnight change, of course. Nothing in history ever is. But in the 1890s, this new breed of woman – this New Woman – started to emerge.
The number of women who had an education had slowly increased until, in the 1890s, upper-middle-class women were ‘likely’ to have an education. The upper- and middle-class’s expectations about family had changed considerably during the 19th century, and at the end of it, it was starting to show. Young people wanted to realise themselves and their dream before committing to the life-long job of being parents. This, of course, affected more women than men. Because contraception methods were still so unreliable, women who wanted an education and a chance to become professionals simply postponed marriage and motherhood to pursue their dreams. This didn’t mean that they didn’t want to get married or to be mothers – as social commentators started to fear – but that they wanted more time to pursue personal ambitions, and families and partners were becoming willing to grant them that time.
So it was that the number of educated women rose and that women started to work outside the house as professionals. Up to that time, women had indeed worked outside the house, but only by necessity. It was poor women who worked so to be able to support their families. But at the end of the 19th century, middle- and upper-class women started to pursue a profession. They became lawyers, doctors, journalists, even scientists, though most of them were teachers, nurses and sales clerks. The profession wasn’t important. What was important was that society started to accept this.
If this was the beginning, the ‘pleasure-seeking’ flapper was the end. A woman who was so far away from the Victorian True Woman that it might seem impossible she just was her niece if not even her daughter.
The New Woman of the 1920s was the apex of that experience, a woman who expected to get an education and a job, at least before getting married. She was a woman who drank, smoked and danced in places out of the house where the sexes mixed without barriers. She was a woman who was not afraid to speak her mind and to express herself to the fullest.
She was also a very visible woman. Yes, she studied at university and worked out of the house, but she also went out in the open, to the beach, for example, or shopping about town as she spent the money she earned. She became a new sector of the consumer culture, actively participating in it both as producer of goods and consumer.
Increasingly, the New Woman became the object of pictures in films and magazines – and yes, she was indeed objectified. Her body – which she finally owned and used to express herself – also became an object of desire and advertisement.
Constrain the New Woman in just one box is very difficult because she was a very diverse, complex image and reality. Society generally criticised her as a sexually degenerate, abnormal, mannish, chain-smoking, child-hating bore who was also quite superficial. Yet, many men thought she deserved to have space in the public sphere, both as a worker and as a political person. At the same time, many women still thought she was a freak because women should focus on being good wives and mothers.
The New Woman was that complex.
The New Woman’s historical trajectory
When in the 1890s the New Woman started to emerge, an illustrator, Charles Dana Gibson, captured her spirits and essence so beautifully that the New Woman of the end of the 19th century is now best known as the Gibson Girl. She was a woman who wanted to be mistress of her time, which she was not willing to entirely sped in the home. In fact, the Gibson Girl featured prominently in the magazines of the time, and even if that image was part reality and part fantasy, it still speaks to us about how society and women sow themselves and what they accepted and expected. The Gibson Girls illustrations portrayed a young woman who spent most of her time in the open, engaging in sports, riding her bicycle about town, all of this often unchaperoned. The Gibson Gils wanted to be a businesswoman. She was educated, and she wanted to exploit that education – before she got married.
At the beginning of the 1900s, the New Woman got involved in the new idea of feminisms and in the fight for women’s rights.
These were women who were vocal about what they wanted, and it wasn’t anything that looked like what they were expected to have. They wanted to vote. They wanted to be involved in politics and social issues. They wanted to be free to express themselves. And they manifested this will on the street, with pickets and manifestations. It might not seem anything special to us today, but it was a social shock back then when it first happened.
The social pressure to impose a view of these women as freaks, as different, as not the norm was very strong. But in the end, it didn’t prevail, and I think it was less about winning the right to vote and more about what WWI did to the Western world. Whether society wanted it or not, women entered the workplace in unprecedented numbers. In that space, they learned a lot of things about themselves and the society they lived in, the rights that society had over them, and whether those rights were just or not.
There was no going back, even if there were attempts. Let women work in a time of need; they will go back where they belong once the emergency is over.
It was not to be.
What happened after WWI wasn’t a ‘back to normal times’. It was the New Woman of the 1920s. A woman who dressed as she pleased, did what she pleased, stepped into men’s spaces all the time, and started to see a different place for herself even if she didn’t manage to step into that space during her time.
It looked to be about fun. It was actually about proclaiming her personality. It was about expressing herself in the way she saw fit, whether it was by going to university and getting an education, working out of the house, taking up professions that had been dominated (and were still dominated) by men, becoming more mobile both because of the lighter dresses and the availability of new, easier transportations (like the car).
The New Woman was asserting herself whatever society tried to make it look like.
On the surface, it might look like society won.
The Great Depression was the end of the New Woman. In many ways, what the New Woman had won in the decades straddling the 19th and the 20th centuries slipped away and didn’t return for several more decades. That’s why even today, we think of the emancipation of women as an event of the 1960s. But would that have happened if the New Woman hadn’t happened? Would people and society have been ready enough to face the whirlwind of the 1960s if the New Woman hadn’t put the seeds for that change all those decades before?
This is what I’m going to explore in April. Who the New Woman was. What she did. What she felt. And what she gained for herself and for the women who came after her.
I hope you’ll enjoy the ride.
NOTE: if you want to keep updated so as not to miss a post, join my gang (you get a free short story when you do that, too). It’s all about the 1920s and the adjacent decades. About 1920s history and novels set in the 1920s. If you love this decade, I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun and value from it!
ENTER THE NEW WOMAN
A – Athleticism
B – Bobbed Hair
C – Consumer Culture
D – Daisies
E – Ensemble Separates
F – Flapper
G – Gibson Girl
H – Hemline
I – Industrial Production
J – Jazz
K – Kohl and All That Jazz
L – Legislation and Dress Reform
M – Mobility
N – New Negro Woman
O – Oriental Style
P – Political Stance
Q – Queer
R – Respectabilty
S – Suffrage Movement
T – Trousers
U – Undergarments
V – Vamp
W – Word War I
X – XX Century Women
Y – Youth Culture
Z – Zest
Eabinovitch-Foz, Einan. Dressed for Freedom : The Fashionable Politics of American Feminism. University of Illinois Press, Champaign, Illinois, United States of America, 2021
Fass, Paula S., The Damned and the Beautiful. American Youth in the 1920s. Oxford University Press, New York, 1977
The (Im)morality of the New Woman in the Early20th Century by Zsófia Anna Tóth (PDF)
Women of the 20th Century – The Changing Role of Women
Americam History – New Women in Early 20th-Century America
The Grace – Women’s Fashion Evolution: from Gibson Girl to Flapper
I am so happy you are participating again!! 🙂 And with such a great theme! I am looking forward to your posts! Happy Theme Reveal!
Are you kidding me? This is one of the best time of the year here on my blog. I love this challenge 🙂
You always have such research-intensive themes! My family has been solidly proletarian for many generations, so my great-grandmothers didn’t really have the option of attending university and living a flapper lifestyle. However, one of my great-grandmas did love going to see the movies in Pittsburgh and having fun with her friends when she was a working girl in the 1920s.
My family also didn’t live a ‘flapper’ life. It wasn’t all that common here in Italy, and then, apparently, it only happened in the big cities, where richer people lived.
I live in a village close to a smaller town, and that kind of life wasn’t really available to my ancestors 🙂
But it’s interesting to know that it did exist and wat it meant for a lot of people. Eventually also for those who were not directly involved in it.
Another fabulous theme. Can’t wait to read. I may not participate this year apart from reading. Let’s see.
Happy you like my theme 🙂
Oh, I hope you’ll find a way to take part. It’s such a fun challenge.
Love this theme, especially as it fits in with the fiction I am writing (trying!). My series starts in 1919, is set in rural South West England and will follow 4 women (2 generations) as they make this transition and run their private investigators business. I was at school in the 1960s so experienced some of this for myself. Education was unimportant for girls, expected to stay at home and raise the children.
Thank you for all your past and future posts.
How exciting! You story sounds really intersting. I hope to be able to help you with my posts 🙂
Bridgina Molloy the Wicked Writer, (aka abydos6)
Now this is a theme that sings…looking forward to reading more.
Thanks so much. I hope you’ll enjoy it 🙂
Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I’m so excited about this theme, Sarah! I can’t wait to start reading what you’ve researched 🙂
Ronel visiting forA-Z Challenge Theme Reveal 2022
It’s a theme that is very close to my heart. I hope to do it justice 🙂
So happy to see you ont he challenge again.
This sounds marvelous. My grandmothers came of age during this period. It’s been awhile but I may be back myself in April for the A to Z. Itching to add to my collection, 2013-2017.
Oh, I hope so! Do get back to the challenge, Sharon. I so loved your posts!
What a comprehensive Theme reveal post. I’ll look forward to reading this as it fits nicely with a family history project I have started.
Happy you liked it, Susan. And I hope this wil be of use to you. This is the whole point of this blog. To be of use 🙂
Thanks, Jamie 🙂
Sounds like a great theme! Good luck with it! And thank you for remembering Jeremy… I never got the chance to meet him, but the stuff he did for the challenge was nothing short of spectacular…
This is a community. Even if we never met someone, we all part of it.
The first word that pops into my brain is, “wow”! What a wonderfully thorough post and a great topic. Your reveal reads like a really cool History Channel documentary about women that I’d add to my watchlist. I truly look forward to catching the entire ‘series’ in April.
Aww, thanks Anjela 🙂
It’s a topic I love. I love researching it.
Thanks for stopping by my blog.
I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts on this.
Funnily enough, it was the pandemic that reignited my blogging and got me back to the A2Z
That’s not surprising. I think the pandemic (and especially the lockdown) was a great opportunity for many people to reassert our life. It was a very important moment for me.
What a wonderful theme, especially with all that is going on in the world. I look forward to reading your blog 🙂
Happy to hear you like it. Can’t wait for the challenge to start.
That looks like a very clever theme. I’m not sure I understand it. But I’m just a guinea pig. Thank you for visiting our blog. I hope to visit in April and see if I understand it better. Or maybe one of the others will.
LOL! Biggles, I’ll try to be as approacheable as possible 🙂
This sounds like a fascinating topic. Sorry I missed your previous A to Z’s. Some day I might catch up on a lot of them that I missed. I’ll certainly be following you now. Have a good journey.
Thanks, Harvey. Are you passionate about the 1920s too?
Joy Weese Moll
Wow! I’ve learned so much already. I’m looking forward to 26 more posts to deepen my understanding of The New Woman
Happy to hear it, Joy! I can’t wait for your challenge too. We ‘historians’ (I mean, I’m just passionate about history, I’m not a historian 😉 ) are so rare on the challege, don’t you fined?
Anne E.G. Nydam
I’ve really enjoyed your past themes and I’m definitely looking forward to this one!
I hope you’ll enjoy it, Anne 🙂
I love your theme. I’ve put your blog on my list of ‘must visits’ during the challenge. Looking forward to reading your posts. Good luck with the challenge. Sharing it on Twitter as there will be interest in my networks.
Thanks so much, Jennifer 🙂
I’m writing like a madwona, because I feel I’m already late! But I’ll make it!!!
So much info already, can’t wait to read more! You have such a way to share what you know in an engaging way, I’m looking forward to read more about this Gibson Girl.
Hi Andi! So happy to see you again! 🙂
On the one hand, I can’t wat fr the challenge to start. On the other…. I’m sooooooo behind and it’s scary!!!!!!!
Looking forward to reading your posts during the Challenge. Also looking forward to leaning from you as your output is so professional. Exciting stuff:)
Thanks so much, May. I hope you’ll find it interesting 🙂
This is so exciting! I love how much you research and prepare yourself for the challenge. Nowadays this is an important topic, as sometimes things look as if “feminism” and society in general were opposite poles. (At least here in my country, that sometimes looks like walking backwards)
I´m looking forward to reading how you approach this amazing topic. And the pictures! I love the fashion of the ´20´s
Hi Hannelore! I love 1920s fashion too!!!
Beautiful theme, enjoyed this thoroughly!
Thank you so much, Damyanti. I’m happy you liked it 🙂
This is the first time I heard about this challenge – I will keep it in mind for next year 🙂 Anything that motivates me to write is good in my book!
Also I have to comment on your post. These women were amazing. There were so many obstacles in their way and yet they persevered, and today we are standing on their shoulders. Respect.
Hi Carla 🙂
The AtoZ Challenge is an incredible experience, especially the first times. I learned a lot about bloggin in this challenge, and I made quite a few blogging friends.
I totally agree. The women who lived between the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s had some spank!
absolutely love this theme, probably your best theme yet
Thanks, Sally 🙂
I enjoyed writing it a lot.