Preferred Citation: Todd, Ellen Wiley. The "New Woman" Revised: Painting and Gender Politics on Fourteenth Street. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1993 1993.

Chapter One The "New Woman" Revised

Chapter One
The "New Woman" Revised


Here she comes, running, out of prison and off pedestal; chains off, crown off, halo off, just a live woman.
"Is Feminism Really So Dreadful?"

Who was the "New Woman?" What roles did popular culture or high art image making assume in the production and dissemination of different ideals of new womanhood? How did viewers understand such images in relation to women's changing experiences at work, at leisure, and in interpersonal relations? How are representations of new womanhood beginning in the 1890s pertinent to the Fourteenth Street images of women by four artists in the 1920s and 1930s? Historical and methodological considerations justify a broad introduction to the discourse of new womanhood. First, even though historians chart a perceptible shift to a post-franchise model of new womanhood more overtly "feminine" and individualized, ideological connections with earlier models remain. Because representational conventions and typologies of womanhood keep both the continuities and the changes in play in the Fourteenth Street works, it is important to chart them. In different ways, for example, Marsh and Soyer in the 1930s draw from John Sloan's turn-of-the-century depictions of working-class femininity. At the same time, each artist's interpretation can be situated in 1930s representational and historical contexts related to art, women, leisure, and work. Second, the artists themselves lived through the generations of new womanhood. They forged new identities, viewed with new eyes, and modified representational practices in light of shifting discourses on realist art and new womanhood. Finally, in these historical discussions of new womanhood I put into practice the kind of intertextual and historically grounded readings I use in subsequent chapters. These readings clarify the relationships between ideas manifested in images and other forms of representation. They also provide a wider context for gendered interpretations of paintings by taking into account a variety of historically situated, classed, and gendered viewers.


For both earlier commentators and present-day historians, the phrase "New Woman" conjures up dozens of images, verbal characterizations, and notable exemplars. At the end of the nineteenth century it stood for the middle- to upper-middle-class woman's evolutionary progress toward modernity and, in particular, her movement from the home to the public sphere. Women born between the late 1850s and 1900 made up the first two generations of new women. As Carroll Smith-Rosenberg has pointed out, bourgeois matrons bequeathed to their daughters the women's institutions—social and literary clubs, reform and suffrage groups—that demonstrated new possibilities for women outside the home. Thanks to the establishment of women's colleges, these young women received a higher education in the 1870s and 1880s and pursued careers as teachers, social reformers, health experts, writers, artists, and physicians in the years up to the First World War. These women, like their mothers, adhered to the values of community service rooted in small-town America and concentrated their efforts on social justice, world peace, and remedying the ills of industrializing cities.[1]

In such activities and in their campaigns for suffrage many first-generation new women retained ideals of female virtue and nurturance from earlier decades, making a place for themselves in the political arena as the nation's caretakers, its guardians of spiritual resources. Some, like Charlotte Perkins Gilman, attempted dramatic reforms of middle-class social conventions, campaigning for more communal and cooperative domestic services to free working women from home and child care. Others, like Margaret Sanger, addressed issues of reproductive rights and explored changing attitudes toward female sexuality. Unlike their mothers, many college-educated new women postponed marriage indefinitely. Instead, they established strong networks among women (some of which included lifelong same-sex intimate relationships) in the educational institutions and settlement houses that gave them their new occupations. Whether they renounced marriage because of a single-minded determination to carry on the world's work or from a longstanding perception that a career was incompatible with marriage and motherhood, many in the first generation preserved the nineteenth century's strong tradition of female bonding, but now from a position of economic independence outside matrimony. Whatever their exact position, these new women questioned marital norms and prevailing notions of gender difference and sought different social and sexual relations with men.[2]

While some middle-class new women at the turn of the century bypassed marriage for careers and woman-centered social and political activities, young immigrant women expanded the traditional boundaries of permissible heterosexual interaction. By day these women provided a frequently exploited pool of unskilled labor for factories, department stores, and offices, laboring, sharing meals, and traveling alongside men, with whom they chatted and flirted. By night many aban-


doned their cramped tenements as well as constricting Old World models of courtship. Unchaperoned, they found release from the monotony of daily wage labor in new forms of commercialized leisure. Brightly lit dance halls, amusement parks, nickelodeons, and later movie houses opened up to them a stimulating, often erotic, world of pleasure. New dances demanded sensuous bodily movement or physical closeness. Darkened theaters encouraged kissing and petting. Mechanized rides at Coney Island flung couples together or exposed women's bodies to eager male bystanders.[3]

The appearance and behavior of these working-class women suggest that new womanhood crossed class, ethnic, and gender boundaries and show how in the multivalent discourse of new womanhood ideologies and practices of gender difference were negotiated, political power and personal autonomy demanded, and the larger social order contested by men and women. An immigrant woman at the turn of the century was rarely called a New Woman by literate commentators. Indeed, as Kathy Peiss points out, some of the settlement-house reformers who trained lower-class women in the genteel ways of the middle class were among those most dismayed by the ability of some lower-class women to subvert that training. The reformers deplored the threat of mechanized leisure to the urban cultural landscape of the bourgeoisie. And they were puzzled by those working-class women who continued, by and large, to choose the heterosexual world of commercial pleasures over the female-centered community of the neighborhood settlement house. In a number of instances, working-class women reshaped middle-class reformers' ideas of leisure and women-centered activities by pressuring them to stage mixed-sex dances and parties at neighborhood community centers. In this way the new immigrant women played their part in weakening the borders between male and female spheres, foreshadowing the ideology of heterosexual interaction that would come to dominate postwar gender relations.[4]

Many second-generation middle-class new women, like their working-class sisters, repudiated nineteenth-century bourgeois sexual conventions. These women were fully at home in urban culture. Beginning about 1910, with this second generation, feminism entered the lexicon of new womanhood, often becoming synonymous with it. As a term, feminism came into use at a time when nineteenth-century terminology—the "woman movement," "woman's rights," or the "cause of woman"—began to sound outdated. In its early stages, as Nancy Cott has demonstrated, feminism emerged from the ideological Left. Its tenets were articulated by a vocal minority of women among those intellectuals and activists embroiled in the cultural, social, and political rebellion centered in Greenwich Village. Though most early feminists were women from bourgeois backgrounds entering professions newly opened to them, they were sympathetic to socialism and often paired the two isms as the foundation of social change. On the one hand, they found parallels


between socialism's analysis of the oppressed classes and claims for women. On the other hand, they identified the trade union woman as a source of strength and a model of economic independence.[5]

Though dependent on the ongoing women's movement in general and the suffrage movement in particular, feminism in the teens took a more radical stance than either, thereby altering and expanding the agendas of these movements. Furthermore, though its strongest adherents remained a small minority, radical feminism developed during the only decade when women's suffrage coalesced into a mass movement. Cott explains how women forged alliances across class, race, and educational lines as they shared the suffrage platform and experimented with political activism. Feminists questioned the dominant claim made by suffragists that a woman's moral superiority would improve political life. They substituted for this domestic, duty-bound ideal of femininity a notion of women as humans fully equal to men. The Feminist new woman of the teens had as a goal "the emancipation of woman both as a human-being and as a sex-being."[6] More preoccupied with self-development than self-sacrifice, the feminist made independent choices in career, politics, relationships, and individual style. This growing concern with individualism arose in a context of group consciousness, however. In 1912, for example, twenty-five Village women, headed by Marie Jenny Howe, established Heterodoxy, a group whose organization and ideals expressed the central paradox of feminism—women's desire to be individuals without losing their collective political and social identity.[7]

Those who attached feminism to "new womanhood" in a positive sense glossed the latter term as a reinvigorated demand for economic independence, equal rights, and, above all, sexual liberation. As feminists had abandoned moral superiority in the name of equality, they asserted parallel male and female erotic drives. A woman would make her equal claim to passionate sexual fulfillment in the context of an intimate and mutually supportive heterosexual (though not necessarily marital) bond. Feminists accepting this guideline in the teens valued heterosexual relationships more than any group in the women's movement before them; many also valued friendships with women, and their ranks included a number of lesbian couples. Still others fought respectability from the ranks of the birth-control movement, linking sex oppression to class oppression. Finally, while women like Olive Shreiner championed women's sexual nature as equal to men's, others, like the popular Swedish feminist Ellen Key, celebrated eroticism from a position of difference. For Key, a woman openly expressing her sexuality manifested her sacred and superior maternal role.[8]

Feminism and feminist New Women in the teens sustained a series of paradoxes that would disperse into patterns of conflict, accommodation, and revision in the 1920s. Women claimed to be both like men and different from them. They demanded to be understood as economically independent individuals in a collective


sisterhood. Under the unifying banner of suffrage (though many suffragists spurned both radical demands for economic independence and sex rights) feminists for a brief interval made this sequence of contradictions coherent.[9]

From the end of the nineteenth century through the teens an extraordinary range of pictorial and verbal texts embodied the historical changes as well as the debates about women's roles encompassed by new womanhood. Easily read images, most featuring women as types, were produced through technological advances in the printing industry. Such images, in posters, magazine and newspaper advertisements, and department store displays, became part of the popular visual culture. Whether turn-of-the-century images of women were produced for mass consumption or for an elite patronage, they used a variety of conventions to chronicle, advocate, or contain social change.

Within a decade after the term "New Woman" first appeared in contemporary journals, the coolly elegant Gibson girl began her twenty-year reign as America's most popular visual type (Fig. 1.1), first in Life magazine, then in every imaginable artifact of American material culture. Doulton porcelain, commemorative spoons, umbrella stands, matchboxes and whisk-broom holders bore her figure. Thanks to pyrography, the decorative hobby of the day, enthusiasts burned her image into every available leather and wooden surface. For the male bachelor's apartment interior decorators marketed wallpaper with a repeat pattern of four Gibson girl faces. Commentators puzzled over her appeal, and in her heyday one of them named the types: the beauty, the athletic girl, the sentimental girl, the girl with a mind of her own, the ambitious girl, and—the universal favorite among men—the charmer. Of her creator, Charles Dana Gibson, Homer Fort wrote

His pen has caught the true inspiration and he embodies in one composite picture the vivacity, the independence and hauteur, the condescending amiability, the grace and the catholic spirit of the daughter of this great Republic. You like his women, whether in a magazine or in life and you instantly know she is neither English, French or German. Instinctively you say: "This is the American woman."[10]

For some, the Gibson girl synthesized the best of Anglo-American traits to that time; for others, her stature and self-possession took on a larger meaning as emblems of America's international accomplishments and conquests.[11]

For many women the Gibson girl also exemplified prewar new woman's self-assured independence. Arguing that she brought together and represented the positive changes for women that had occurred during the nineteenth century, Charlotte Perkins Gilman contrasted her in 1898 with the average American woman: she was "braver, stronger, more healthful and skillful and able and free, more human in all ways."[12] In an often-cited article of 1901, the writer Caroline Ticknor dramatized the startling newness of the New Woman in an imaginary encounter between the Gibson girl and her predecessor, the "steel-engraving lady." The latter—a corseted



Charles Dana Gibson, "One Difficulty of the Game: Keeping Your Eye on the Ball,"
from Americans , 1900.


A steel-engraving lady. Division of Costume,
National Museum of American History, Harry
T. Peters Collection, Smithsonian Institution.


fragile beauty—was a product of antebellum fashion lithographs (Fig. 1.2). In Ticknor's scenario, she sits at her embroidery frame, tending hearth and home and awaiting Reginald, the man who adores his "lady love" and places fair womanhood on a pedestal. The statuesque Gibson girl, dressed in a shorter skirt and comfortable walking shoes, and tanned from exercise in the sun, has dropped in on the steel-engraving lady before meeting her male companion on the golf course. The Gibson girl instructs her fair-skinned predecessor in the ways of modern womanhood:

We have done away with all the over-sensitiveness and overwhelming modesty in which you are enveloped. . .. When a man approaches, we do not tremble and droop our eyelids, or gaze adoringly while he lays down the law. We meet him on a ground of perfect fellowship, and converse freely on every topic. . .. Whether he likes it or not makes little difference; he is no longer the one whose pleasure is to be consulted. The question now is, not "What does man like?" but "What does woman prefer?" That is the keynote of modern thought. You see, I've had a liberal education. I can do everything my brothers do; and do it rather better, I fancy. I am an athlete and a college graduate, with a wide universal outlook. My point of view is free from narrow influences, and quite outside of the home boundaries.[13]

The Gibson girl goes on to assure her astonished companion that she plans to enter a profession, and to "purify the world of politics." Home is now an insufficient vocation, and a woman's duty is to make the most of her talents and be self-supporting. "'Heaven helps her who helps herself' suits the 'new woman,'" the Gibson girl proclaimed. "This is a utilitarian age. We cannot sit down to be admired; we must be 'up and doing'; we must leave 'footprints in the sand of time.'"[14] After listening to her modern guest, the steel-engraving lady concluded the conversation by contrasting the goals of her education with those of the Gibson girl, and by expressing regret for the passing of an ideal of genteel womanhood.

The theory of my education . . . was designed to fit me for my home; yours is calculated to unfit you for yours. You are equipped for contact with the outside world, for competition with your brothers in business; my training merely taught me to make my brother's home a place which he should find a source of pleasure and inspiration. I was taught grace of motion, drilled in a school of manners, made to enter a room properly, and told how to sit gracefully, to modulate my voice, to preside at the table with fitting dignity. In place of your higher education, I had my music and languages and my embroidery frame. I was persuaded there was no worthier ambition than to bring life and joy and beauty into a household, no duty higher than that I owed my parents. Your public aspirations, your independent views, your discontent, are something I cannot understand.[15]

Ticknor heightens the differences between the two women through a series of oppositions that exaggerate the Gibson girl as a model of change. She links the ideology of new womanhood with historically specific ideals—equality, for exam-


pie—that are usually assumed to have a fixed meaning. In this text, to be equal is to be permitted an education and a turn on the playing field, but not a place in the political process. Turn-of-the-century women made the Gibson girl a symbol of their campaigns for equality, two of the principal quests being exercise and dress reform.[16] Ticknor made women's adoption of "mannish" behavior and dress the precondition for equality.

Like many successful cultural stereotypes, the Gibson girl could be manipulated and interpreted in a variety of ways. Ticknor's text, which is unillustrated, actually makes her more of a reform figure than the visual image was intended to be; neither the Gibson girl nor her creator, Charles Dana Gibson, was a radical figure. Gibson mistrusted organized feminism, fearing it would make women too masculine. He deplored the extreme tactics of radical suffragists and, until his own wife served as a Democratic committeewoman, had reservations about women's political role.

In one particularly telling cartoon, Gibson showed his Gibson girl being notified of her election as sheriff by a group of homely female politicians while her husband and children look on, dismayed. In another, "A Suffragette's Husband," Gibson portrays the anti-feminist caricature of the New Woman as a battle-ax (1911; Fig. 1.3), her bulk compromising his frail masculinity as they sit at the breakfast table. Though Gibson enjoyed the Gibson girl's athleticism and frequently portrayed her bicycling or golfing (usually with a male companion), her movements remained graceful and her creator refused to clothe her in trousers. Though she looked independent, she was only occasionally portrayed as a working woman, and then only as a nurse or secretary, not as a reformer in a settlement house—a position often held by educated new women. Her cool aristocratic demeanor was modeled on that of women in New York's high society, which Gibson himself frequented, and her aloofness preserved a Victorian ideal of chastity and gentility.[17]

In his survey of Gibson girl iconography, Robert Koch observed that Gibson was a romantic, primarily concerned with love and marriage and their effects on women of his class. He campaigned vigorously against the marriage of beautiful wealthy women to aging European aristocrats. At the same time, he presented courtship "as a matter of mutual respect and admiration," predicting the companionate ideal of subsequent decades.[18] The Gibson girl was a figure of accommodation. She mirrored the aspirations of many young women who wanted both possibilities and limits. As Fairfax Downey wrote in his sometimes patronizing account of the Gibson girl in 1936, "Little girls everywhere, who relinquished the ambition to be President to little boys and who did not then even hope to be Madam Secretaries in the Cabinet, did determine to be Gibson Girls when they grew up."[19] Because she assumed an independent air without radically challenging patriarchal assumptions, the Gibson girl became the most visible and acceptable symbol of new womanhood at the turn of the century.



Charles Dana Gibson, "A Suffragette's Husband," from Other People, 1911.

Even as the Gibson girl became a popular icon, American painters found ways to portray the modern ideal without violating the conventions for depicting women in high art. The most fashionable portrait painter of the day, John Singer Sargent, was praised for a bravura painting technique that captured the elegant costumes, sparkling jewelry, and sumptuous settings of his high-society subjects. Many of Sargent's portraits of women, for all their animation, mark off a separate and unchanging world of Gilded Age wealth and privilege.

Thanks to a chance set of circumstances, Sargent's portrait of Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes strikes a thoroughly modern and slightly unconventional note (Fig. 1.4). In a portrait intended as a wedding gift from her prominent New York banker husband, Edith Stokes was to have been seated in a green evening dress with her Great Dane beside her. After four sittings, Sargent saw her one morning fresh from a tennis game, dressed in a mannish blue serge jacket, a shirtwaist, and a full white skirt that permitted freedom of movement. The artist immediately wanted to paint her as she was and asked her to pose to reveal her stature.[20] Edith Stokes stands confidently, facing the viewer and smiling. Her brightly lit figure, its costume delineated by broad angular slabs of paint that belie accepted notions of femininity, fills



John Singer Sargent,  Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps
, 1897. Oil on canvas, 84 1/4" × 39 3/4".
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

the foreground, partially blocking that of her bearded husband in the shadows to her right. Originally, she was to have stood with her hand resting on the head of her Great Dane; after three sittings, Sargent substituted the figure of her husband and the straw hat.[21]

Since the strikingly modern aspects of this painting—costume, pose, and placement of figures—are still worked through accepted conventions of turn-of-the-century portraiture for elite patrons, the painting remains situated within the mod-


erate discourse of new womanhood. The smiling figure of Mrs. Stokes is more like the aristocratic Gibson girl, as girl athlete and charmer, than like the demanding suffragist. Though we know the figure of her husband was added later, his closed stance contrasts with her expansive one; as she is depicted, she dominates the relationship, taking center stage and demanding for herself the larger share of the viewer's attention. The composition thus constructs a prominent position for a female viewer, a secondary one for the male viewer. At the same time, however, the figure of Edith Stokes necessarily remains a primary object of the male viewer's gaze. Moreover, her husband reported that Sargent himself was most pleased not with the figure of Edith herself but with the spiral stroke with which he represented the enormous engagement ring on her left hand—a sign of the male patron's proprietary rights and financial power over his wife.[22] Evidence that the painting's representational strategies negotiated the controversial issues of new womanhood is provided by one account of critical responses to the portrait that suggests anxiety about unleashing modern woman's sexuality—anxiety that increased in some quarters with even the smallest sign that women were moving away from nineteenth-century norms of genteel behavior:

The Stokes portrait, accomplished by the collision of accidents, has been credited with a social probity melodious to modern ears. Mrs. Stokes held her straw hat where the great dane ought to have been, at the very point in her husband's anatomy where spirited critics have been moved to assert she is desexing him.[23]

Arguments against the new woman's moving into the public realm—through work, higher education and a professional career, women's reform movements, the suffrage campaign, and feminism or through new forms of commercialized leisure—signaled a profound cultural change: the erosion of separate spheres. Since the 1830s, with the emergence of industrialized capitalism, bourgeois and elite culture had defined separate spheres of activity for men and women. This governing Victorian ideal placed women at home as self-sacrificing guardians of the family and as good mothers preserving traditional values while men left for the public world of work, to do battle in the marketplace. The figure of Edith Stokes with her husband in an undifferentiated setting suggests those boundaries were deteriorating.

By contrast, visual reinforcement of the ideology of separate spheres appears in paintings of the middle- to upper-middle-class domestic interior popularized by the Boston school painters at the turn of the century. Influenced by Vermeer's light-filled, geometrically ordered interiors, painters like Edmund Tarbell, Frank Benson, Joseph Rodefer De Camp, Philip Leslie Hale, and Joseph Paxton produced images of sweet, quiet women reading, having tea, crocheting, or sitting with their children. Whether shown absorbed in reverie or in quiet tasks, all remain undisturbed by encroachments from the world of work. Edmund Tarbell's Girl Crocheting is typ-


ical (1905; Fig. 1.5), combining the color and softness of Impressionism with academic drawing and a composition dictated by the works of the old masters, one of which appears in the work. The stern papal figure of Velázquez's Innocent X presides over the woman bathed in idealizing light. As in many of these works, the woman's position is carefully circumscribed by the geometry of the composition and by such props as the gateleg table that closes off the pictorial space from viewers. Alternatively, she is contained by the fluid volume of a large interior space that is opposed to the light of the unlimited world outside.[24] If one were to choose from the art of the period images that epitomize the competing values articulated by Caroline Ticknor's 1901 piece on the steel-engraving lady and the Gibson girl, Tarbell's Girl Crocheting and Sargent's painting of Mr. and Mrs. Phelps Stokes would come close to the mark.

Although women in interiors were not a subject unique to Boston and its painters, this genre had a particular cultural resonance in a city whose upper-middle-class population included a surplus of single educated and publicly active women pursuing professions and campaigning for suffrage alongside a powerful anti-suffragist contingent in the women's movement. In her study of the Boston school, Bernice Kramer Leader argues that these works, made by a highly successful group of painters for Boston Brahmin patrons, can be read ideologically as anti-feminist.[25] Leader, who attributes anti-suffrage sentiments only to those painters and patrons known to be actively engaged in the anti-suffrage movement, claims that all these artists can be understood as traditionalists regarding woman's sphere. Many of the prominent men who purchased paintings by the Boston school not only belonged to the most conservative social, religious, and political constituencies in Boston but also worked to preserve the past through membership in genealogical and historical societies, support of cultural institutions, and the purchase of paintings that upheld their values. Men who believed they had the most to lose from the erosion of separate spheres and the concomitant realignment of social and political hierarchies seem to have been among the most avid collectors of images of passive and dutiful women safely ensconced at home. The artists who painted these images espoused similar values. Artists and patrons together fashioned an ideal woman representing values they wished to preserve, a pictorial substitute for the publicly active women around them.[26]

In Boston, male and female suffragists and anti-suffragists alike used the ideology of separate spheres in their arguments. Suffragists revised the notion of woman's sphere, emphasizing woman's natural moral superiority in purifying the political arena. Anti-suffragists took a narrower view, arguing that woman's laudable characteristics resulted from her continued position in the home. Entry into the world of politics would not only rob her of her natural attributes but, in so doing, would prove "disastrous to harmonious social order."[27] For anti-suffragist male viewers the painted image might have functioned both as a substitute for an ideal of wom-



Edmund Tarbell, Girl Crocheting , 1905. Oil on
canvas, 30" × 2.5". Canajoharie Library and Art
Gallery, Canajoharie, New York.

anhood that was slowly eroding and as a subtly coded message to discourage female viewers from entering the public arena. For the like-minded wives, sisters, and daughters of the works' patrons and painters there was an ideal to preserve. Female suffragists may have read such an image as an ideal to renovate. Many new women wanted less to reverse established gender hierarchies than to accommodate values rapidly coming into conflict in a modern world. Thus the paintings may have been constitutive in different ways for the male and female viewer. The popularity of these works among an elite audience gives evidence of the continuing importance of the ideology of separate spheres—albeit under revision—among a powerful social constituency comprising both men and women.

Even if they construct viewing positions for both sexes, the portraits and domestic genre paintings of the Boston school were painted by male painters for male patrons. Many women artists in turn-of-the-century Boston, however, achieved critical acclaim and professional success in the mainstream academic circles frequented by the Boston school. Having trained seriously in art, usually with Tarbell or Benson, they made their reputations and gained financial independence chiefly through portrait commissions; in their pursuit of art as a profession rather than an avocation, these women artists began to challenge the stereotype of the lady painter and made a place for themselves among professional new women. Some of their most revealing works, especially in light of the shifting discourse of new womanhood, were their self-portraits. Conventionally, artists have used this genre to fashion an


artistic identity or to augment social or professional status. Some self-portraits by turn-of-the-century women conveyed their changing status as women artists; others interrogated the artists' identity as women in ways that at times exaggerated and at times obliterated prevailing notions of female difference.[28]

By 1909, when she turned forty, Marie Danforth Page was a highly successful portraitist who worked out of the studio she had established in her Back Bay home in 1896, when she married the research bacteriologist and physician Calvin Gates Page.[29] In 1909 she painted two self-portraits. In the first, she gazes forthrightly at the viewer, a fashionable modern woman preparing to go out, adjusting the large ties of her broad-brimmed hat under her chin. The same year, she painted an elaborate portrait of her husband that included another self-portrait (Fig. 1.6). Her most ambitious work to that date, it bears the imprint of both her Boston training and the influence of Velázquez. Calvin Page is a serious seated figure painted in the blacks, browns, and grays conventionally used in male portraits. In a large framed mirror behind him is a shadowy full-length reflection of the artist. She wears a long smock, holds her palette, and stands before a canvas bearing the image of her neighbor's four-year-old son, Malcolm Stone, whose portrait she was painting at the time. This child's reflected image, aligned along a vertical axis directly above the likeness of Page and similarly posed, suggests a generational relationship.[30]

Lacking written evidence of Marie Danforth Page's intentions, we can ask about the effects of her compositional conceit in light of ideologies of gender and competing discourses of new womanhood in turn-of-the-century Boston. Trevor Fair-brother's account of her reflection—she is a "hovering angelic form" presiding over the "anxious presence" of her husband[31] —is altogether in line with the ideology of separate spheres that envisioned separate roles and social spaces for women and men. Dr. Page is the material presence, situated in the world of work and rendered in solid masses of paint. His wife, depicted in loose diaphanous strokes with flickering highlights creating a corona around her head, floats in a separate, superior, and spiritualized realm, almost like an idea he carries in his head. The child's image gives the most precise embodiment of her sphere, shining out far more prominently than any other part of the reflection. Together, the presences suggest familial harmony.

Although this interpretation gains credibility in the context of Danforth's Boston training with Benson and Tarbell and her own social position, the painting also problematizes the ideology of separate spheres. The painting asserts the presence of the professional artist, standing with her palette next to the product of her craft. The child is not hers, and her (painted) husband gazes on an image of a working woman artist. The artist's reflection can thus be read as that of the female slowly emerging from the shadows (as well as contained by them), a gradual rather than an abrupt process. She presents her own image, not alone and self-confident, as in her other self-portrait, where she envisioned herself as a woman of fashion, but in



Marie Danforth Page,  Calvin Gates Page ,
1909. Oil on canvas, 41 1/2" × 24 1/2". Private

conjunction with that of her husband. At the same time, her reflection in the mirror tells us that she makes both her own image and that of her husband the subject of her constituting gaze.

Where Page's reflection seems to signal a tentative embarkation into a new world, A Motion Picture , Margaret Foster Richardson's unprecedented self-portrait, captures the sense of unfettered possibility inscribed in the new woman by her most optimistic and progressive advocates (1912; Fig. 1.7). Painted when the artist was thirty-one, the portrait shows her ready for work, moving toward the light, paintbrushes in hand. Rather than fashioning herself according to some ideal of domestic beauty (for which she had ready models in the work of her Bostonian teachers Joseph De Camp and Edmund Tarbell and in her own early images of domestic interiors), she effaces many of the contemporary markers of femininity. The free-flowing lavender-gray smock she wears and her severe white collar with a masculine tie make the body androgynous. In contrast to more elaborate Gibson girl coifs, the artist's hair is drawn back in quick practical fashion, and she wears eyeglasses. A full-size figure who fills the otherwise empty frame, she strides, turning her eager face toward the viewer without slowing her progress. It is as if Richardson has



Margaret Foster Richardson,  A Motion Picture  (self-
portrait), 1912. Oil on canvas, 40 3/8" × 23 1/8". The
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.

provided a visual image for Charlotte Perkins Gilman's description of a feminist—a woman freed from the trappings of Victorian femininity and the ideology of women's sphere.[32]

The visual language of these portraits and self-portraits reads both with and against the grain of competing ideals lodged in the discourse of new womanhood. Such readings suggest how language is both an empowering and a constraining device, dependent on the gender and class of producing and viewing subjects. The paintings by Sargent, Page, and Richardson capture the positive spirit of new wom-


anhood in its early decades—its vitality and health, its self-assured professionalism. But even as this new identity is conferred through altered conventions of pose, gesture, costume, and activity, little else disturbs the conventions of large-scale academic portraiture and self-portraiture at the turn of the century. Settings remain fashionable or simply unspecific. The subjects themselves conform to the middle-to upper-middle-class ideal of new womanhood. These paintings and others like them accommodated themselves to an already permissible discourse of new womanhood that opened social spaces to women without reversing traditional hierarchies of gender.

These paintings also embodied the so-called genteel tradition that sought, in the words of William Dean Howells, to portray "the more smiling aspects of life, which are the more American and [to] seek the universal in the individual rather than the social interests."[33] In much of the high art and the popular culture of the period, idealized or spiritual women functioned as both bearers and signifiers of the genteel tradition. Female allegorical figures in murals and on public monuments of the Gilded Age personified timeless values of Truth, Justice, and Beauty. In domestic interior imagery women preserved the spiritual serenity of the home from encroachments by the world. Portrait images provided standards of middle- to upper-middle-class decorum. By the turn of the century, even as Boston school paintings in the genteel mode reached the apex of their popularity, critics began not only to fault them for their academic conventions but to devalue them in a hierarchy where the masculine was superior to the feminine. Charles Caffin, reviewing American paintings at the 1900 Paris Exposition, found them overly pretty and "lacking in marrow." Instead of trying to convince, the paintings sought not to offend, offering "irreproachable table-manners" rather than "salient self-expression."[34]

Whereas Caffin's readers might infer from his distinction between "manners and self-expression" an opposition between masculine and feminine in the genteel tradition, George Santayana made it explicit. His purpose in "The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy" was to demonstrate the difference between authentic (male) experience and artificial (female) decorum; more broadly, he sought to link progress and modernity with the masculine, regression and tradition with the feminine.

The truth is that . . . one-half of the American mind, that not occupied intensely in practical affairs, has remained, I will not say high-and-dry, but slightly becalmed; it has floated gently in the back-water, while, alongside, in invention and industry and social organisation, the other half of the mind was leaping down a sort of Niagara Rapids. This division may be found symbolized in American architecture: a neat reproduction of the colonial mansion . . . stands beside the sky-scraper. The American Will inhabits the sky-scraper; the American Intellect inhabits the colonial mansion. The one is the sphere of the American man; the other, at least predominantly, of the American woman. The one is all aggressive enterprise; the other is all genteel tradition.[35]


Insistence on the feminine attributes of genteel culture served both to re-fix gender boundaries against the incursions of new women and to devalue the activities of professional women in the social and cultural spheres. Important challenges to what many critics and commentators saw as a bourgeois "feminization" of American culture arose in the naturalist fiction of authors like Theodore Dreiser and Upton Sinclair and in the art of the Ashcan school realists—precursors of the Fourteenth Street School artists. As Rebecca Zurier has shown in her work on the Ashcan school and on The Masses , painters like Robert Henri, John Sloan, George Luks, and George Bellows gained their reportorial outlook from their experience as newspaper artists. They earned their reputations as artistic "revolutionaries" by abandoning academic subject matter, turning instead to life among the working classes on the Lower East Side. Guided by their teacher, Robert Henri, Ashcan school artists came to believe that the character of America's immigrant and working-class population was more authentic than that of the middle and upper-middle class. Forced to confront the crowded conditions of urban life head-on, this population experienced work and leisure unmediated by bourgeois niceties of behavior—what Henri and others would have called the burden of bourgeois social conventions. From the artists' middle-class vantage point working-class life was richer, more exciting and varied. To capture its directness and vitality, the artists rejected academic painting, whose careful drawing, polished surfaces, and finished contours became metaphors for the artifice of bourgeois life itself. Instead they painted directly on the canvas with rapid strokes, charged with emotion, that were meant to express the sense of life in the raw these artists felt as witnesses to a new, fundamentally different, American life.[36]

At times the artists revealed their own middle-class predisposition to view their subjects as the exotic other, or to make the working poor heroic while ignoring the daily grind of their lives. As realists sympathetic to or active in socialist politics, the Ashcan painters portrayed specific incidents and actual sites, living among their subjects as the Fourteenth Street School artists would do a generation later. Many worked in Greenwich Village; Sloan found much of his material near his home-studio in the heart of the Tenderloin, the most notorious center for vice and prostitution in turn-of-the-century New York. Through this reportorial practice and direct style of painting they showed that a democratic and pluralistic society comprised a population beyond the genteel middle class.[37]

Encouraged by Henri, who counseled each, "Be a man first, be an artist later," a number of male artists associated with the Ashcan circle repudiated the genteel feminized artist type of the late nineteenth century.[38] The sometimes tough, sometimes athletic behavior of artists like Henri or Luks, who adopted an aggressive, hard-drinking stance and staged boxing pantomimes to épater les bourgeois , or George Bellows, who portrayed violent boxing matches, reveals a broader middle-class cultural anxiety about masculinity and femininity.[39] Celebrated by President


Theodore Roosevelt, who became its major exemplar, the cult of the strenuous life became enormously popular at the turn of the century. Its advocates promoted outdoor activity in general: healthy new women, for example, favored bicycling and golf. Middle-class men looked to boxing, football, and baseball to make themselves tougher and more competitive—indeed more efficient—in modern industrial society. Those who advanced strenuosity and athletic pursuits argued that they would reinvigorate the "delicate indoor genteel race" and prepare men for leadership in the modern world.[40] For the artists, athletic endeavors and an energetic, spontaneous approach to painting served to refute gentility on the one hand and reassert masculinity on the other.

Among the Ashcan painters, John Sloan became the primary chronicler of the youthful working-class new women who inhabited the tenements, labored in the shops and factories, and spent their leisure time in the dance halls, parks, and movie houses. His portrayal of these women as cheerful rather than downtrodden can be linked to the genteel tradition's preoccupation with distancing women from commerce and politics. Though a socialist, contributing drawings and cartoons regularly to The Masses , Sloan insisted that paintings be lighthearted, humorous, or sympathetic in their commentary. His own paintings, he said, simply documented his "interest in humanity, at play, at work, the everyday life of city and country."[41] Had Sloan chosen to depict, for example, working-class men at work, his paintings might have become embroiled in issues of labor and class conflict, thereby violating both his own and the art establishment's injunction against painting as propaganda. Women, as Patricia Hills has pointed out, were the perfect subject, especially women at leisure. They allowed Sloan to locate a revitalizing spirit in the working classes—indeed to present the issue of class in high art—without violating institutionalized mythologies about women.[42] Paradoxically, however, even as Sloan deferred to the genteel tradition, he expanded the acceptable subject matter and representational practices for depicting class and gender in high art.

Sloan's images encompass a wider range of social spaces and activities of working-class new womanhood than had previously been represented in American easel painting; in many of these works women are emotionally and physically active, even raucous. Frankly, yet discreetly and even ambiguously, many of Sloan's paintings also expressed the open sensuousness of working-class new women's leisure pastimes. In this way the artist made visible—even celebrated—one of the most controversial aspects of new womanhood: sexuality. Furthermore, he employed narrative strategies in some works that allowed him to play with the sometimes euphemistic or ambiguous responses of middle-class commentators to these women. The commercialized world of leisure and the male-female relationships practiced within it generated a large body of commentary on working-class sexual morality at the turn of the century. As boundaries blurred between middle-class public and private spheres in industrializing cities, class distinctions broke down as well. The



John Sloan,  Sunday Afternoon in Union Square , 1912. Oil on canvas, 26 1/4" × 32 1/4".
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine.

middle class struggled to contain the new sexual practices, fearing they would destroy middle-class social institutions, particularly that of procreative sexuality in marriage.[43] Finally, one can argue that some of what we read in Sloan's images may arise not only from his observations of working-class women but also from what he learned about sexual attitudes and expectations from his intellectual peers, including the radical feminists of Greenwich Village. In other words, representations of sensuous working-class women were not only the exotic Other but also sites for the production of a freer sexual ideal advocated by one group of new women.

Sunday Afternoon in Union Square expresses many of these ambiguities (Fig 1.8). Executed in May 1912, the painting shows two eye-catching young women strolling through the park.[44] Both wear showy versions of contemporary dress that reveal their figures; the one to the left is heavily made up, with reddened lips and rouged cheeks. The artist gives both women artificial gestures, carefully choreographed to attract attention. They walk in perfect tandem, placing their bowed and


pointed shoes before them like chorus girls. One cocks her arm, tilting a bright pink parasol so that it frames her plumed hat. The other extends her arm, swinging her purse from the end of a finger. Sloan has positioned this arm so that it bisects the body of the man directly behind her while the purse seems to trail seductively down his leg. Behind this man, who raises his hand to his mouth in an ambiguous gesture of amusement or embarrassed speculation, another pauses to watch the women. Several other city types are arranged on park benches, a number of them responding directly to the central players. Two girls, in white dresses and hats, follow the main figures with their gaze; one whispers from behind her hand. An older gentleman leans toward them, perhaps eavesdropping on their commentary.

Because of its composition, which places the central figures in front of a group of observers they have just passed, and the elaborate narrative staged through poses and gestures, the painting asks, just who are these young women, or, more to the point, what kind of young women are they? They might be prostitutes taking a Sunday walk. In the teens the Union Square district bordered one of the major neighborhoods for prostitution and served as a site of solicitation. The women's costumes and flirtatious gestures add another clue. Heavy makeup, extravagantly large hats, and the soft purse dangling prominently from the end of a string were professional trademarks.[45] In this scenario, the girls seated at the left and the woman in her shirtwaist at the far right can be read as genteel foils to the strolling women, the standing men as voyeurs or potential clients. Sloan on several occasions just prior to beginning this painting referred directly to prostitution in his graphic work, and he depicted well-known sites of prostitution in several paintings.[46]

For solid middle- to upper-middle-class reform-minded viewers with a sketchy knowledge of New York neighborhoods and social life, female behavior was either respectable or promiscuous. In the opening pages of his novel Sister Carrie , Theodore Dreiser spelled out the precariousness of female virtue and the clear choice available to women entering the city, where a young girl either "falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse. Of an intermediate balance, under the circumstances, there is no possibility."[47] Given the dread of prostitution expressed in contemporary journals, middle- to upper-middle-class viewers accustomed to seeing women represented in genteel domestic surroundings might well find solicitation and, as critics argued about Sloan's work in general, vulgarity in this scene.

While allowing for such a reading, the painting engages a broader and somewhat more complex understanding of working women's sexuality. Some young working women, who wanted to participate in the public world of pleasure, freely adopted and often mixed modes of dress from high society and the subculture of prostitution. In "putting on style," as Kathy Peiss has demonstrated, these young women could at once signal their aspirations to a higher social station and reveal their desire for greater independence and sexual expressiveness, manifested by displays


of conspicuous behavior. Other working-class women saved to buy colorful clothes, affirming their progress toward a better life or their entry into American culture by buying a new outfit.[48]

Virtually all working-class women were poorly paid. Immigrant daughters living at home were expected to turn over their paycheck to the family, in return for which they might receive a tiny allowance for clothing or transportation. Women who lived independently or shared quarters with friends eked out an existence, often skipping meals to buy new clothing or pay for commercialized entertainment. While some young women became prostitutes to make ends meet, others used different tactics to negotiate the new social spaces where sexuality and commercialized leisure intersected. A number practiced "treating," offering a date or a steady boyfriend a range of sexual favors, from kissing to intercourse, in exchange for an evening at the dance hall or at Coney Island. Such women were called charity girls, to distinguish them from regular, or even occasional, prostitutes who exchanged sex for money. Many women accepted the risks of treating—the threat to whatever respectability they wished to maintain—to gain access to a world of pleasures that gave them a sense of autonomy and freedom lacking in their working lives.[49]

Viewed in this light, the narrative in Sloan's Sunday Afternoon in Union Square plays with notions of female desirability and respectability. Furthermore, by posing observers behind the central figures, the painting constructs a range of viewer-subject positions apart from those of the gaping male viewer and the disapproving upper-middle-class academically schooled patron. For example, a female working-class viewer of Sloan's painting, sympathetic to women seeking ways to meet men outside the home, might identify with the two girls seated on the left. Rather than condemn the central figures for conspicuous behavior, she might admire them for their colorful finery and their skilled flirtation. She might see them as figures to emulate—as new women entering public leisure spaces and carving out a heterosocial sphere that emphasized greater sexual autonomy and personal freedom.[50]

The flip side of this viewing pleasure and identification on the part of one class of contemporary female spectator is that the central players are also set up as beautiful objects of a primarily voyeuristic male gaze. Even as Sloan examined the way these working women negotiated their social and cultural identities with a degree of independence, he was taking a reportorial delight in the beauty of his strikingly clad female subjects. Consequently they are subject, like virtually all women in representation, to a powerful "regime of looking" that reinstates historically specific relationships of "sexual power and subordination."[51] Here the kind of female independence represented was predicated on the assumption of men's economic superiority-women depended on them for treating. Institutions of leisure were operated by entrepreneurial males according to that assumption. There was, in short, a double edge to this emerging sexual autonomy; if working women were more independent, they were nonetheless kept in economically subservient positions.[52]



John Sloan,  Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair , 1912. Oil on canvas, 26" × 32".
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts.

Though his paintings were criticized and rejected by academic juries, in them Sloan redefined and extended the social spaces within which women could be represented in high art. His paintings of lower-class women also encompass a range of possible settings and experiences. In Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair Sloan captured an altogether different moment in these women's lives (1912; Fig. 1.9). For virtually the entire turn-of-the-century working class, the six-day work week was the norm, with Sunday the only day of leisure. Some used the day for excursions; others caught up on domestic chores and prepared for the next work week. Leisure remained unstructured, occurring at spontaneous moments during the day. Sloan's painting documents such a moment. It shows three young women on a tenement rooftop, the only sunny place among the crowded city buildings. There they hang out their laundry and chat while letting the sun dry their hair.

For all its apparent innocence, this scene combines signs of class and sexuality to mark these as working-class new women, who flout virtually every sign of Victorian gentility. Their youth and their appearance together would have suggested to contemporary viewers and even casual readers of muckraking literature that they


shared an apartment, living without any traditional guardian of female virtue. In a semi-public setting, seen from a slightly elevated viewpoint, the women, framed by vertical smokestacks so that it seems as if we and others can observe from neighboring tenements, display themselves unselfconsciously in ways more appropriate to the privacy of the bedroom. One woman arches her back and stretches up to catch the sun. Another elevates her bare arm like a nude model and lets her shoes fall off, exposing her bare feet. A third, clad only in what appears to be an untied shirtwaist or chemise and slip, shakes out her unbound hair. The artist modified poses from contemporary studio painting or photography to achieve his casual effect. Apart from depicting working-class women as more openly sensuous—the sketchy, spontaneous brushwork emphasizes both the roughness of the surroundings and the animation of the subjects—the paintings show that the working-class new woman's vitality was also a positive sign of her independence. With the exception of Sixth Avenue and Thirtieth Street , few of Sloan's portrayals of working-class women can be associated with the poor-worker-as-victim literature produced by reform-minded social workers of the Progressive Era.

Sloan's paintings represent competing notions of gender and class at the turn of the century. Informed by his interactions with Greenwich Village feminists—from Max and Crystal Eastman to Emma Goldman—Sloan made paintings that confront the spaces of working women's lives and in so doing challenge the ideal of separate spheres and blur the boundaries of public and private life. Middle- and working-class new women sought realms of personal autonomy—through work, leisure, and a revolution in notions of sexual expression and sexual satisfaction within marriage. In taking on these issues through the images of exuberant working women, often in amusing situations, Sloan borrowed a device from turn-of-the-century movies, which used humor to make fun of and hence blunt feminist claims for equality. Like many moviemakers, who worked for a largely working-class audience, Sloan celebrated the spunk of women who could make their way through the demanding, occasionally terrifying, urban world. But these women found their pleasures in a heterosocial environment of commercialized leisure—not in feminist utopias or in woman-centered campaigns for reform. In this way the paintings incorporated the Progressive Era's liberal ideals of new womanhood without undermining patriarchal cultural norms.[53]

Around World War I, as the Gibson girl became obsolete, the designation new woman evoked a range of types that cut across class and occupational boundaries and signified a variety of social, sexual, and political practices. The new woman could be seen as a tough spinster feminist, a fast-dancing flapper, a free-love Greenwich Village bohemian, an avid careerist, a working mother, or a charity girl.[54] All these types, however, exemplified women's increasing engagement with social spaces that were public, urban, and modern.


Even if members of all classes and ethnic backgrounds resisted the most radical implications of feminism's specific campaigns for equality, communal domesticity, free love, and the right to the ballot, many accepted the broader ideals and typologies of new womanhood. In "The Unrest of Modern Woman," for example, Susanne Wilcox made a clear-cut distinction between a "conspicuous minority of restless, ambitious, half-educated, hobby-riding women" and the "submerged majority of sober, duty-loving women," all "secretly dissatisfied with the role of mere housewife" and eager to participate with men in the "game of life."[55]

Although this middle range of positive responses to the New Woman continued to be varied and selective according to the different institutional and ideological backgrounds of commentators, two common threads remained. One attributed new womanhood to forces of social rather than biological evolution and stressed woman's human nature. A second claimed the moral attribute as the primary one of womanhood. "The new woman is the old woman under new conditions," wrote Louise Connoly in 1913. She is new in "accidentals" rather than "essentials," and her "advance" results from changes in education, "labor saving inventions," new notions of physical development and efficiency, and an increasing claim of the individual against class privilege resulting from "a great wave of democracy."[56] The greatest enticement for women to move to the public sphere was the demand for a dutiful citizenship in the new morally self-conscious body politic. Two months after Connoly's piece appeared, Norman Hapgood reiterated her arguments in an editorial for Harper's Weekly , claiming that the new woman's place in the world would generate higher intellectual and moral standards.

The Feminist Movement, properly understood, is merely the moral movement in human evolution. It is merely the substitution of modes of thought based on present conditions of industry and education for modes of thought which were built up under a system of constant warfare and general ignorance. The movement of women toward contributions to the world's ethical progress is just as resistless as the march of general education or the movement of industries out of the home into the factories. . .. The publication that undertakes to express progress can no more leave this movement out of account than it can ignore labor, or the relation of government to wealth, or scientific agriculture or public schools.[57]

In spite of such attempts to link new womanhood with social improvement or the moral attributes of femininity, not everyone felt kindly toward the new woman. Antagonism was grounded in middle- and upper-middle-class anxieties about social and political change. Domestic interiors by turn-of-the-century Boston school painters quietly reified the dutiful, submissive, hearthbound ideal of womanhood even as historical evidence suggested the new woman was moving away from the home. A more virulent strain of anti-new woman rhetoric spoke of biological rather than social evolution, employing the more misogynistic notions of Darwinian evolution-


ary theory to argue that women were undifferentiated beings, ranked with children or savages beneath fully evolved rational men, who were predestined to rule the world. In the grand scheme, women by nature could lay claim only to specific sexual and reproductive functions; they were meant to serve as passive helpmeets to men in their own quest for preeminence in the world. If a woman strayed from her course, she threatened the natural social order.

As Bram Dijkstra has shown in Idols of Perversity , this most extreme version of anti-new woman sentiment found international expression in academic and literary painting around the turn of the century. In America these works were widely known, thanks to their exhibition and subsequent circulation through reproduction in periodicals. They were also more popular than paintings by Ashcan school realists, whose depictions of exuberant working-class women marked a distinct shift in what many wanted to see as the natural order. Dijkstra shows how paintings that depicted women as allegorical figures or as subjects in mythological, medieval, or biblical narratives belonged to a scientific and literary discourse that waged a war on women on "the battlefield of words and images."[58] Dijkstra also argues that the most vehement anti-woman strain categorized women according to a powerful dualism as either virgins or whores, self-sacrificing angels or consuming, lustful demons. At first the more passive types—submissive, childlike, often weightless "collapsing women"—were equated with the "angel" of the Victorian home. Somewhat later in the century a fascination arose with the angel's opposite, the vampire, the prostitute, the murderous Judith or the power-depleting Delilah. Kenneth Hayes Miller's teacher, Kenyon Cox, portrayed another popular evil woman in his two-panel depiction of Lilith consorting with a serpent above the Temptation and Expulsion (1892; Fig. 1.10). Eve's wicked predecessor in the Garden of Eden embodied all the powerfully negative forces attributed to the serpent demon. Such representations of women marked them as feminist predators, robbing worthy men of their place in the world. Whether fragile or feline, however, each typology degraded women, expressing anxiety about changing distributions of social and economic power increasingly signaled by the new woman.

In chronicling visual manifestations of the battle between the sexes at the turn of the century, Dijkstra examines various forms of late nineteenth-century academic painting against intellectual conditions that continued to influence early twentieth-century ideas about sex as well as race and class. Confronted by massive waves of immigrants beginning around 1880, many well-to-do, conservative native-born Americans worried that racially inferior strains from eastern and southern Europe would pollute the pure Anglo-Saxon American. Commentators anxiously noted the diminishing birthrate in the native-born middle-class population (still the most strongly perceived locus of new womanhood). Claiming that women had an obligation to "preserve the race," they cautioned them against pursuing a career or public service at the expense of a family.



Kenyon Cox, Lilith , c. 1892. Present location unknown.

Pictorially, especially in popular graphic imagery related to the anti-suffrage campaign, the angry evil feminist was often pitted against the benign mother or the "angel," negating compromise positions with iconography and physiognomy suggesting such opposites as good and evil, beautiful and ugly and the corresponding categories of civilized and rational against bestial and disordered. Tom Fieming's "Home or Street Corner for Woman? Vote No on Woman Suffrage" features two roundels (1915; Fig. 1.11), one with the Renaissance Madonna's successor, the serene mother with her cheek pressed against her child's, the other with a shrieking feminist, teeth bared, eyes rolled upward in satanic agony, and hair in Medusa-like disarray (a reference to her rejection of childbearing). The two roundels contrast



Tom Fleming, "The Home or Street Corner for Woman? Vote No
on Woman Suffrage," 1915. Lithograph, 18"× 30". Rare Books
and Manuscripts Division, The New York Public Library, Astor,
Lenox and Tilden Foundations.


Rodney Thomson, "Militants," Life, March 27, 1913.



John Sloan, undated. Illustration for Mary Alden Hopkins,
"Women March," Collier's , May 18, 1912. Crayon, ink, and
pencil on white paper, 8 1/2" × 11". The University of Michigan
Museum of Art.

social rectitude with social disorder—both the responsibility of woman. Rodney Thomson's "Militants," an illustration for Life magazine, uses physiognomic categories to describe the militant Feminist (1913; Fig. 1.12). In row one, "As They Are," Thomson shows the militant as a hag with masculinized features; one of the major arguments against feminism and new womanhood centered on women's unsexing themselves or becoming masculine. In row two, "As They Think They Are," the feminists are beautiful heroines, saints and angels—this row could also be captioned "As Men Would Like Them to Be." The highest form of life is both the most beautiful and the most recognizably feminine. In row three, "As They Appear to the Police and Shopkeepers," the bestial nature of the militant emerges as she grows horns and pointed ears and again bares her teeth.

In contrast to these works, John Sloan's pro-suffrage drawings, published in Mary Alden Hopkins's 1912 article "Women March," provide a middle ground ignored in the anti-suffrage images. The drawing of four women marching retains the image of the suffragist as a mature woman, past the bloom of youth (Fig. 1.13). Sloan's women are proud and determined as they march in step, but their faces and



John Sloan, "Hooray, Hooray for Mother," 1912. Illustration for Mary Alden Hopkins,
"Women March," Collier's , May 18, 1912. Ink and charcoal with traces of gouache on
paper. Collection of Gary M. and Brenda H. Ruttenberg.

poses are pleasant and nonthreatening. This drawing's pendant, "Hooray, Hooray for Mother," depicts a distinguished and enthusiastic father with three children cheering as their (unseen) mother marches for the vote (Fig. 1.14). Here, mother and father (the feminine and the masculine) exchange spheres, contributing to both the private and the political, without compromising either category (compare this drawing with Fig. 1.3, Gibson's anti-feminist cartoon of the overbearing wife opposite her emasculated husband).[59]

Although Sloan's two drawings portray traditional roles for women, together they enact the contradictory premises of women's rights advocates—and of the modern feminist movement—that coalesced in the suffrage campaign in the teens. As Carrie Chapman Catt proclaimed in "Why Women Want to Vote" in 1915, the vote was both a right of women as persons, equal to men, and their duty as women, different from men.[60] Women needed equality so that they might express their differences; their contributions as a group would help in areas that were more properly theirs—for example, government regulation of housing and factory working con-


ditions and community betterment. Furthermore, with the twentieth-century shift to an urban industrial environment populated by dozens of ethnic groups, voting came to express not just individual but also group interests. In such a climate, the suffrage platform temporarily balanced women's diverse interests with the individual woman's access to the vote. Nancy Cott summarizes this balance: "'Sameness' and 'difference' arguments, 'equal rights' and 'special contributions' arguments, 'justice' and 'expediency' arguments existed side by side," forging a balance that was neither "accommodationist" nor "conservative" but "encompassed the broadest spectrum of ideas and participants in the history of the movement."[61] With this coalition in 1920, women achieved the vote.

For most historians enfranchisement has marked the end of an era in feminism, a great divide in women's history. Commentators writing about the interwar decades focus on the political results of the franchise, the economic gains and losses of women in the work force, and the effects of both on women and the family, the implications of the "revolution in manners and morals" for women's emotional and sexual behavior and the new culture of consumption. Depending on their own historical vantage point, and to some extent their gender, writers since the late 1920s have claimed virtually everything and nothing for women, seeing them as either "struggling victims" or "active participants" in American history. In characterizing this historiography between 1920 and 1970, Estelle Freedman shows how writers alternately argued "that the vote was not used, that it had brought equality; that women became men's equals in the world of work, that they had remained in traditionally feminine occupations; that the sexual revolution had changed women's lives, that the revolution was more a literary than an actual occurrence."[62]

In considering these contradictions, Nancy Cott has looked at feminist intents in the "context of the conditions for or against their accomplishment." For her the 1920s were the end, not of feminism, but only of the suffrage campaign. "We should recognize the surrounding decades as a period of crisis and transition. The modern feminist agenda—to enable female individuals with several loyalties to say 'we' and to achieve sexual equality while making room for sexual difference between women and men—was shaped then." Part of that struggle consisted then, as now, in finding "language, organization, and goals" that express and help to maintain "functional ambiguity" rather than "debilitating tension" in the central paradox of the modern women's situation—her simultaneous equality with and difference from men.[63]

By the late 1920s there was a fresh outpouring of literature and commentary on the feminist New Woman; new womanhood was elided with or became a substitute for feminism, as demonstrated in the title of one of the more important published debates, "Feminism: Views for and against: A Symposium on the New Woman." Current History magazine dedicated its October 1927 issue to the debate, arguing,


"There is perhaps no aspect of present day social history more controversial in character or more delicate in its implications than that of the new status of woman."[64] A substantial body of this literature combined conservative social analyses with anti-feminist assumptions in theorizing about the New Woman's happiness in relation to societal health. Deeply concerned with her air of self-sufficiency (linked to her economic independence), the escalating divorce rate, and the decline of patriarchal authority, some writers argued that women were becoming too masculine, others that both the economy and the culture were overfeminized.[65] In either case, writers offered solutions that would re-fix the masculine and the feminine in more distinct, hence more traditional, categories while still allowing for something like "progress." Harriet Abbott's "Newest New Woman," as "the most modern" feminist, born at the very moment of the franchise, would place rights, freedom, suffrage, intelligence, and selfhood in the service of all the traditional obligations of women's sphere—self-sacrifice in "service to her family, her neighbors, her nation and her God."[66]

Abbott's credo typifies a shift in emphasis from the late 1920s through the first years of the Depression, when the literature on the woman question increased at the same time that a once quieter, though never absent, voice from the earlier decades of reform began to reassert itself. Some commentators argued that feminism was outmoded, having served its purpose of bringing women out of their separate sphere into the modern world; others, fearing feminism's futuristic or utopian projection of a genderless world, countered by invoking the importance of the family to social cohesion.[67]

In 1927, the writer Dorothy Bromley made the New Woman the quintessential figure of accommodation in this minefield of representations. Like Caroline Tick-nor, the apologist for the Gibson girl, Bromley used the rhetoric of opposition to contrast two recent types: Like Ticknor, she staged a changing of the guard, pitting the angry feminist of the immediate prewar years against the New Woman of the post-franchise decade, the "Feminist—new style." In choosing the term feminist , Bromley acknowledged that the latest New Woman profited from her prewar sisters' struggles to gain the franchise. At the same time, however, Bromley wanted to rid "the average male" of the idea that the new woman was a "sterile intellectual" who cared only about "expressing herself—home and children be damned." For Bromley, "old-style feminism" suggested "either the old school of fighting feminists who wore flat heels and had very little feminine charm, or the current species who antagonize men with their constant clamor about maiden names, equal rights, woman's place in the world, and many another cause . . . ad infinitum ."[68]

To do away with the idea of the New Woman as "fighting feminist," Bromley formulated a credo for the new woman in her twenties and thirties. This "truly modern woman" was well dressed, fond of men, and interested in a full life that included pursuits outside the home as well as marriage and children. She valued


her career for its creative outlets and for the economic self-sufficiency it provided. She cared about men and women as individuals but not women en masse, believing that as a collective entity women were frequently narrow, strident, and petty. She believed in being chic, and preferred "to keep the intonations of her voice and the quality of her gestures purely feminine, as nature intended them to be."[69] While conceding that the passionate premarital affair was permissible in the new climate of greater sexual freedom, she maintained a belief in monogamy and the marital bond. Within her "companionate" marriage, however, the new feminist demanded greater freedom, honesty, and intimacy.

Bromley sharpened distinctions between feminists who had worked together to gain the vote and women who now turned away from collective goals to concentrate on individual fulfillment. Bromley's old-style feminist lacked charm, denied the special qualities of her sex, and abandoned her "natural" roles of wife and mother. In Bromley's text the Gibson girl's looser, more tailored dress and assertive behavior—once positive signs of greater equality—become negative by association with the exaggerated stereotype of an immediate postwar feminist. Bromley has reinstated the "grace of motion" and vocal modulations of Caroline Ticknor's steel-engraving lady in her new-style feminist, whose voice and gestures were those intended by "nature." Charlotte Perkins Gilman's earlier characterization of the Gibson girl as "stronger," "braver," more "healthful," and more able sounds like the description of a healthy male soldier; the turn-of-the-century new woman who had fought for suffrage and had claimed a place in the political world had needed to develop a range of "masculine" skills. Once the battle was won, however, she could return to the home front and recultivate previously neglected attributes of womanhood. This is not to say that Bromley's new-style feminist is like Ticknor's steel-engraving lady. Bromley's new woman accepts woman's right to work and participate in the democratic process and is interested in self-fulfillment rather than selfless devotion to an ideal of duty and submissiveness. Her new woman, nonetheless, is continuous with a heterosexual ideal that privileges wifehood, motherhood, and feminine charm over a strong woman-centered community that might threaten the patriarchal order.

Another writer, Lillian Symes, who like Bromley distanced herself from the "unpowdered, pioneer suffragette generation" of "braver, grimmer, and more fanatical feminists . . . who had to make the famous choice between 'marriage and career,' "distinguished herself and her peers from another new woman, the "postwar, spike-heeled, over-rouged flapper of today."[70] Condemned by some as representing the demise of femininity and its moral dignity—especially as the gawky figure contrasted with the Gibson girl in Life magazine (Fig. 1.15)—for others she symbolized what the franchise really granted: sexual "liberation." Symes argued that the flapper failed to understand the deeper social and political implications of the prewar women's movement.



"Thirty Years of Progress," drawing for Life
magazine featuring the Gibson girl of 1896
and the Held flapper of 1926.

We grew up before post-war disillusionment engulfed the youth of the land and created futilitarian literature, gin parties, and jazz babies. If in those younger days we believed didactically in our right to smoke and drink, we considered over-indulgence in either "rather sloppy" if not anti-social. If we talked about free love and if a few even practiced it "as a matter of principle," we should have been thoroughly revolted by the promiscuous pawing and petting permitted by so many technically virtuous young women today. . .. Promiscuity was the one thing worse than marriage without love. We were idealists, you see, in our quaint way, and we took ourselves rather seriously. . . From Olive Schreiner, Ellen Key, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman came our phraseology. . . If all this makes us sound like prigs, I can assure you we were not. We made ourselves as attractive as we knew how to be, we were particular about our clothes, and few of us ever "sat out dances."[71]

The new, accommodating, feminist was aptly represented in the frontispiece to Current History's symposium on the New Woman (Fig. 1.16). This figure could be comfortably situated between the Gibson girl and the flapper. Youthful, she wears contemporary fashions, having traded in her flat heels for high ones. She has not yet bobbed her hair—it is drawn back neatly from her attractive but not heavily made up face. Her stance is firm, but stable rather than aggressive. Attributes of



"The New Woman Emerging out of the Past,"
frontispiece for "A Symposium on the New
Woman," Current History  27 (October 1927).

past and present accomplishments surround her: a pen, a globe, and books suggest her education and her literary production; a lyre and mask her cultural preoccupations; a T-square, an architectural plan, and scientific instruments her recent professional pursuits. Women's past and present roles are represented in a tapestry: wife-mother, spinner, pioneer woman, and turn-of-the-century athlete. Old and new remain inseparable.

In Bromley's and Symes's attempts to moderate the discourse of new womanhood one can locate both a credo for what some Greenwich Village radicals in 1920 called post-feminism and defenses against what Symes later called the new masculinism.[72] The new man, according to Symes, was ambivalent about modern women, a "gentleman who expects you to assume half the financial obligations and all the domestic ones."[73] In a world with diminishing job opportunities and increasing economic demands on the consumer a man felt a loss of both his ability to be the sole provider and his competitive edge against the new woman. Under these circumstances, he thinks back "wistfully" to his mother's time, when the position of woman did not need to be examined. Many male writers in the late 1920s and early 1930s argued that competition and public life undermined women's nature. Henry R. Carey concluded in a 1928 critique of rising divorce rates that "the quick-


est way to kill divorce is to restore to all loyal husbands . . . that natural authority which is theirs anyway the moment anything goes wrong. . .. it is surely a pity to destroy a family because the wife, who would not tolerate effeminacy in a man, insists on masculine activities for herself."[74]

Symes claimed that many of the diatribes against modern womanhood came from intellectuals, men "in a position to express what they feel." A writer herself, Symes felt that her male peers found it difficult to adjust to the industrial civilization that had helped to create public roles for women. "Creative" men, hypersensitive and unstable, had a "fairly large proportion of the so-called feminine qualities." Instead of "making peace with this happy combination, [they] are constantly at war within themselves." Symes noted furthermore that women have competed most effectively with men in the arts, causing men to feel a loss of love and of power. She concluded that the struggle between love and power was common throughout history, but because "man has acquired the habits of superiority and because that superiority is now being challenged, he is suffering more than woman from the ravages of this conflict. If it is ever resolved, the new masculinism will go the way of the old feminism."[75] Symes's analysis points to an anxiety about masculinity in the artistic and intellectual community that recalls the debates about gentility versus masculinity at the turn of the century.

Symes's and Bromley's articles were written as the Fourteenth Street School artists were producing some of their early representations of women shoppers and workers. Bromley's, in particular, deserves a closer look in light of the relation between these representations and her new-style feminist. Although anti-feminist is not a 1920s or 1930s term, the historian Lois Banner has used it to label Bromley's new composite because it describes a woman more concerned with individual goals than collective reform. Rayna Rapp and Ellen Ross suggest a less dramatic opposition, arguing that "lifestyle" feminism supplanted "activist" feminism as the new consumer culture co-opted feminist issues and a feminist rhetoric.[76] This shift transpired partly in response to a widely held belief perpetuated by popular historians, businessmen, politicians, and the media that women had achieved liberation. Having done so, women were more inclined to seek self-fulfillment through consumption (with the flapper and the homemaker becoming the principle targets for advertisers), through a new job, and through the family than to continue crusades for women's rights. Furthermore, those who resented the franchise claimed that in gaining rights, women had lost privileges like leisure and self-indulgence and the right not to work. In 1930, a woman who chronicled the aspirations of young college graduates wrote about yet another new woman:

Here they are, all fresh and educated and ready to be good wives and mothers. And bent on being feminine, first and foremost, with a strong bias toward being supported. They have heard a lot about women's work and women's working, and some of them have experienced both. They know all about woman's place in the world of finance


and commerce and industry. . .. They see their elders fighting time and tide to hold their places in a world which is, say what you will, largely run by men, and they think it's poor policy. The younger women are going to fight for the privilege of being supported, coddled, courted and cherished. They consider feminism an artificial word.[77]

Finally, many commentators in the late 1920s accepted women's right to work but insisted that women not combine a career with marriage.[78] Their discussions were fueled by a concern for the future "wholeness" of the American family. They reassigned traditional roles to women, claiming that women who worked outside the home could improve family life through consumption. Benjamin Andrews wrote in 1929, "The world in which the typical family lives is the world built for it by the woman who spends."[79]

Within these generally conservative and individualistic trends of the 1920s, sales and clerical jobs, like those of the women imaged in Fourteenth Street School paintings, offered the new woman socially acceptable and desirable opportunities. By the post-franchise decade, almost 90 percent of retail sales positions were held by females, and the jobs had been stereotyped as woman's work since shortly after the war.[80] In these jobs, women served others and behaved in ways that did nothing to alter traditional womanly roles. Moreover, since young unmarried women most often filled these jobs, they were perceived as temporary positions, to end at marriage. Although the Depression and attendant job scarcity helped to solidify the growing public belief that a woman's proper place was at home, sex-stereotyped sales and clerical positions posed no threat to either the beleaguered male work force or traditional patterns of male and female behavior. Consequently, this kind of work continued to remain acceptable throughout the Depression.

The shift from political engagement to self-involvement through consumption, family life, and economic independence and the belief that certain jobs were more appropriate for women than for men was also touched by and at the same time reflected the central political debate in the post-franchise women's movement, over protective labor legislation for women. This debate divided those feminists who argued for gender difference from those who wanted gender equality.[81] The first camp included the majority of middle-class feminist reformers, trade unionists, and other advocates for working-class women who continued to believe in women's separate and special attributes—their moral superiority and nurturing capabilities—as mothers and childbearers. They argued that wage-earning women needed better hours and working conditions to preserve and protect their physical stamina for motherhood. These moderate feminists also argued that women workers were both poorly organized and overburdened with the responsibilities of work and motherhood; protective laws would win them the conditions men gained for themselves in trade and labor unions. Women in this group worked for legislation to preserve culturally sanctioned roles that signified for them an important achievement in the quest for political power.[82]


In the other camp (led by Alice Paul's National Woman's Party—the NWP), more militant feminists demanded nothing less than full equality. These largely upper-class and professional women submitted a draft of the first Equal Rights Amendment to Congress in 1923. They discounted all claims for women's biological inferiority and moral separateness, arguing further that protective labor legislation should be based on occupation rather than sex to maintain the principle of equality for all. Women could not be protected by separate laws and still be considered equal to men.[83] Moderate feminists, unwilling to risk legislative gains they had already made and seeing no legislative lobbying by the NWP on behalf of both sexes, accused the NWP of making class-based legislation for the bourgeoisie. They banded together against the smaller and more radical group and helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923.

Members of the NWP, perceiving self-interest strictly in gender terms, believed that all women shared a sense of oppression as women. They also saw women as strong equal producers alongside men rather than as dependent wives and mothers in need of special protection. Their abstract sense of women's unity, expressed in the language of liberal individualism, and their single-minded devotion to equal rights blinded them to the diverse experiences of women from other classes and ethnic backgrounds. Furthermore, the political climate of the 1920s—after the Bolshevik Revolution and the Red scare and the general return to "normalcy" under Harding—contributed to divisions within the feminist movement. In particular, it marginalized the Left, splitting the socialist and feminist coalition that had been so important in the teens by branding elements of it anti-American and anti-family. Within the NWP, equal rights became the single issue as class consciousness became the centerpiece of Communist party doctrine.[84]

For all but the most radical feminists, the continuity of nineteenth-century thinking on women's separate sphere modified feminist thought during this period and served to reinforce a status quo based on the deeply held assumption that gained the day with the demise of the Equal Rights Amendment. Even though economic and social forces drew women into the public world of work and politics, women's natural roles were still those of wife and mother. Within the broader discursive framework of new womanhood I call this long-standing and essentially middle-class belief the ideology of woman's proper place.

Living in neighborhoods where modern womanhood took shape, the four artists of the Fourteenth Street School were fully enmeshed in debates about it. Around Union Square they found their female subjects in occupations that were implicated in the same debates, though in different ways. From art schools and art periodicals and in museums they discovered pictorial strategies that allowed them to join contemporary exchanges on the experience of modern womanhood. The interactions of each artist with these different facets of social and cultural life are the subject of the following chapter.


Chapter One The "New Woman" Revised

Preferred Citation: Todd, Ellen Wiley. The "New Woman" Revised: Painting and Gender Politics on Fourteenth Street. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1993 1993.