New Woman: A Pervasive Image in 19th Century Popular Culture

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  • Topic: Charles Dana Gibson, Woman, Nellie Bly
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Kenny Copeland
Mrs. Tripp
History 120
April 16, 2013
Analysis #2 pg.381 Question 3
Question: Why do you suppose the New Woman, portrayed in either a positive or a negative light, was such a pervasive image in popular culture of the era?
The “New Woman” concept that was growing in the 1880’s was a new advancement in the battle for women gaining respect and notoriety in America, the New Woman “agitated for suffrage and reform, pursued higher education, and made modest gains in the professional world.” (pg.374) This wasn’t the only type of reform women were also beginning to delve into athletic activity such as riding bicycles, or shopping in department stores (which was perceived as tiring) and playing golf, reshaping what was considered appropriate behavior for women. The new woman came to fame first through negative recognition, “Critics insisted that voting, higher education, and athletic endeavors would damage women’s health and undermine their femininity and that professional women’s work and increased personal freedoms would harm the middle-class family ideal.” (pg. 374) Most of these critics broadcast there opinion through illustration, depicting these new professional women to be the aggressors and appear manly in size and structure in satirical cartoons, completely flipping the ideal family structure around. Some critics viewed the new woman’s persona and body to be physically attractive, portraying them as beautiful and statuesque such as the famous Charles Dana Gibson who became an icon for new women as a symbol of the new age of American femininity emerging. Charles Dana Gibson otherwise known as The Gibson girl, portrayed as “independent, athletic, educated and confident.” (pg.375) The Gibson girl gained popularity quickly and appeared on more than just ring media, she appeared on jewelry, calendars and even had her clothing and hairstyle imitated across the nation by multiple social classes and races. The Gibson girl was a seductress, using her...
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