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Teaching Guide: Exploring the New Woman Ideal

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, The New Woman, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Summarize Alice Freeman Palmer’s definition of the New Woman in the biography. How does this idea respond to ideas about gender roles during the Victorian era?
  2. Freedom is a key aspect of the New Woman ideologies. Which freedoms are illustrated in the images in this set? What composite picture of “freedom” for the New Woman do they paint? Which freedoms for women do they ignore?
  3. Using the excerpt from What Women Can Earn, describe the social context of the New Woman. Which careers and social roles were available to women? In what ways were these options changing? In what ways were they not?
  4. Read the excerpts from The Yellow Wall Paper and The Doll’s House closely. Where do you see the influence of the New Woman in these writings? How do these writers approach the concept differently?
  5. Using the items in this set as evidence and your own understanding of the historical context for the New Woman ideal, describe challenges that proponents of this ideal faced.
  6. Consider the sources in this set as a whole. Which groups of women are missing from discussion of the New Woman? What does this reveal about the proponents of this ideology and the world in which they lived?

Classroom activities

Assign each student (or pairs of students) an illustration from this set. Ask them to organize and give a short presentation to the class about which aspect of the New Woman ideal the image captures.

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