In the 1920s, how was the "new woman" defined?

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Between the 1890’s and the 1920’s the lives of American women changed drastically. This change was most visible for younger women or those in the rich, elitist upper class. Female education was expanding on all fronts, especially secondary school. Women comprised almost 55% of all high school students and nearly 60% of all high school graduates. By 1900 almost every state was admitting women to their universities. The number of female college graduates doubled from 1890 to 1900. More and more women entered the workforce, meaning women were now becoming part of the consumer class as never before. Most strikingly of all, women were becoming more politically active and by the end of the 1920’s they had the right to vote.

This giant shift in women outside of their traditional roles was dubbed “the new woman” by Randolph Bourne of Columbia University.

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In the 1920s how was "the new woman" defined?

First and foremost, the "new woman" was one who had shed the old ways that said that women should stay at home and be invisible or (when out in public) be very demure.  Instead of staying at home all the time, many of the new women worked outside the home.  These were not always good jobs, but they did put women out in public.  While out in public, women did not act demurely as the old ways demanded.  Instead, they dressed and acted in new and more "forward" ways.  They wore shorter skirts and lighter clothing.  They wore more makeup and they were willing to smoke in public.  All of these things would have been unthinkable in the past.

In short, the new woman was a more aggressive and outgoing person than women had been in previous generations.

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What was meant by the term "new woman" in the 1920s?

This term was used to refer to the fact that the role of women in society was changing.  Most importantly, it referred to the fact that women were becoming much more of a part of public life than they had previously been.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a general feeling that the place of woman was in the home.  Public life was considered vulgar and unladylike.  By the 1920s, this was changing.  Women were more involved in social reform movements.  They were able to vote.  They were starting to go out in public more on social occasions.  This was the time of the flappers, the young women who were willing to be seen drinking and smoking in public and who wore clothes that were scandalous to more traditional people.  All of this new freedom characterized the "new women" of the 1920s.

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