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2. The Changing Status of Women 1900–1950

Nancy Woloch

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00005.x


“They are all social workers, or magazine writers in a small way,” an observer wrote of young women at a Greenwich Village gathering in 1913. “They are all decidedly emancipated and advanced, and so thoroughly healthy and zestful. … They shock you constantly. … They are of course all self-supporting, and independent, and they enjoy the adventure of life.” The engaging young women praised by journalist Randolph Bourne, a Columbia College graduate of 1912, represented the “new woman” of the early 1900s, who he thought would be “a very splendid sort of person” ( Cott 1987 : 34–5). Few achieved the cutting-edge status of the Greenwich Villagers Bourne described, but many types of “new women” met the challenges of the new century. Vital themes of women's history from 1900 to 1950 include: the continual movement of women into the workforce, the expansion of women's rights, the salience of race, and the dynamic growth of the middle class. By the start of the twentieth century, industrialization had changed the nature of work and women had surged into the labor force. In 1900, one out of every five women worked and women made up nearly 20 percent of all employees. Of five million women wage-earners, one fourth worked in manufacturing, where they constituted 17 percent of employees; five times as many women worked in industry as they had three decades earlier. South or North, women made ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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