Throughout history, and particularly during the Victorian era (mid- to late-1800s), women—especially from the upper and middle classes—had little opportunities beyond those of the hearth and home. The New Woman was a response to these limiting roles of wife and mother. Starting in the late nineteenth century, more and more women remained unmarried until later in their lives, gained education, organized for women’s suffrage, and worked outside the home. Women also supported the war effort during World War I. Such developments allowed greater freedom. This was manifest, for example, in the image of the bicycle rider—wearing bloomers instead of long dresses and free to go wherever, whenever she wanted, by herself or with her friends. But these changes didn’t come easily or without pushback from both men and women who were unused to the notion of women’s independence. The following set illustrates the movement’s ideals, the women who embraced it, and a society made uncomfortable by this seismic shift in the roles of men and women.
Additional resources for research
- Daughters of decadence: the New Woman in the Victorian fin de siècle, British Library.
- The New Woman, Clash of Cultures in the 1910s and 1920s, Ohio State University.
- Reforming Their World: Women in the Progressive Era, National Women’s History Museum.
- The New Woman of the 1920s: Debating Bobbed-Hair, History Matters.