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The New Woman

In my new time travel romance release, Thoroughly Modern Amanda, the heroine lives in a small town in Pennsylvania in 1881. She’s from a middle-class family, in her early twenties, unmarried and works as a reporter and writer for a magazine, although her ambition is to move to a big city, like Philadelphia, and work as a reporter for a city newspaper.

At the end of the nineteenth century, women’s lives were going through dramatic changes on different fronts. And this change was most visible for middle and upper class daughters.  Fifty-five percent of high school students and sixty percent of graduates, in the late nineteenth century, were women. All but three state universities, Virginia, Georgia and Louisiana, admitted women by 1900. And those admittances were on the same terms as that of men. By 1920, women made up a growing portion of college undergraduates, at a time when only a small number of Americans pursued college educations. Higher education signified women had goals beyond domestic occupations. White, native born women joined white foreign born and black women in the labor force despite the exploitative conditions which most labored under. And women increasingly sought employment in historically male professions. Female’s professionally reached their peak in the early twentieth century.

In the late nineteenth century, where my story is set, most women employed outside the home were clerical workers. These “new women” represented a “vanguard of social usefulness and personal autonomy” leading to independent womanhood. Women sought to extend their boundaries and raise the stakes through the woman’s movement.

These were the new feminists, described by Randolph Bourne, a progressive intellectual at Columbia University:

“They are all social workers, or magazine writers in a small way. They are decidedly emancipated and advanced, and so thoroughly healthy and zestful, or at least it seems so to my unsophisticated masculine sense. They shock you constantly…They have an amazing combination of wisdom and youthfulness, of humor and ability, and innocence and self-reliance, which absolutely belies everything you will read in the story-books or any other description of womankind. They are of course all self-supporting and independent, and they enjoy the adventure of life; the full, reliant, audacious way in which they go about makes you wonder if the new woman isn’t to be a very splendid sort of person.”

http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/386/newwoman.html

This new feminism was a spirit of rebellion at the turn of the century. The woman’s movement became severed from Christianity and conventional respectability. The movement was seen as a “revolt against formalism” in American culture. Women refused to be defined under the definitions of character and nature attributed to females that had been handed down for generations. These women wished to “achieve self-determination through life, growth, and experience.” Charlotte Perkins Gilman described the “new woman” in this way: “Here she comes, running, out of prison and off the pedestal; chains off, crown off, halo off, just a live woman.”

Feminists sought to change society’s expectations regarding male dominance. In order to do this, they needed to create a community of women struggling against patriarchy. The suffrage and feminist movements overlapped as the organizations broadened to include working women, leftists and pacifists. And the suffrage campaign provided feminists with a platform.

But while the suffragists stressed the importance of women’s duties, including female nurturance, selfless service and moral uplift, feminists fought for a woman’s rights. Their struggle was against social, political and economic discrimination based on sex.

On this final day of my blog tour for Thoroughly Modern Amanda, be sure to leave a comment on this post to be entered to win a PDF copy of the ebook and a $10.00 gift certificate for The Wild Rose Press.

And be sure to stop by fellow Victorian, Isabel Roman’s blog http://www.authorisabelroman.blogspot.com/ for my interview and another chance to win a prize.

Anyone who left a comment on all my blog tour posts will also be included in the drawing for the grand prize, a $50.00 Amazon gift card. And if no one left a comment at every stop, I’ll pick the one who left the most comments and draw a winner if I have a tie. All winners will be announced here http://susanmacatee.wordpress.com tomorrow.

Blurb for Thoroughly Modern Amanda:

Believing anything is possible, magazine reporter Amanda Montgomery dreams about being a modern woman in a nineteenth century world, much like her exceptional step-mother.  But society expects well-off young ladies to focus on finding a suitable husband and raising a family.  And then Jack appears—with no past and unconventional ideas. Does he hold the key to another century as well as her heart, or is she destined to stay in her own time?

Construction worker Jack Lawton wants to preserve an old home that’s scheduled for demolition.  But when he sneaks inside for a final look, a loose beam falls on his head, and upon waking, he finds himself in the arms of a beautiful woman.  His only problem—he’s no longer in the twenty-first century.  Can he find his way back home? Does he really want to?

Excerpt:

“Mother, before I leave for work, I’d like to have a word with you in the parlor.”

Erin quirked a brow, but nodded. With the cook occupied at the sink, she gathered her skirts and followed Amanda from the room.

At the parlor door, Erin frowned. “Is there a problem, Amanda?”

She nodded and opened the door to the empty room. She had to find out the truth about Jack and was sure Erin knew more than she admitted.

Motioning her step-mother to take a seat on the settee, Amanda waited, tapping her foot.

Erin sighed, eyeing her. “So, tell me what’s wrong.”

“Where did Jack come from, Mother?” Amanda propped both hands on her hips.

Erin spread her hands. “How would I know? From his clothing and the place you found him, he must be a workman. But I don’t understand why no one else was in the house at the time. He surely wouldn’t have been working alone.” She shook her head. “And he doesn’t seem to remember anything except his name.”

Amanda bit her lip. “I don’t believe you, Mother. I heard you and Jack talking upstairs.”

Erin’s eyes widened, but she said nothing.

“He was saying something about the future. And he also uses those phrases peculiar only to you.”

“Amanda, I told you those were only stories I made up to entertain you when you were a child.”

“So I believed. But no longer. You have a connection with Jack.”

“I never met the man before. I swear.” Erin raised her hand.

The door creaked open, startling Amanda. Her father stood in the foyer.

“Something wrong, Will?” Erin asked.

Her father stepped into the room. “I was just upstairs with Jack. He needs attending to.”

“I’ll go.” Erin stood. “There are breakfast leavings in the kitchen if you’re hungry.”

He nodded. “I’ll get a quick bite, then I have to get to the bank.” He stepped forward and kissed Erin on the lips.

Her step-mother’s face flushed. “See you tonight.”

Her father pecked Amanda’s cheek, then stepped out, leaving the door ajar.

Amanda grasped Erin’s arm. “I’ll see to Jack, Mother.”

Erin’s brows rose. “Nonsense. You get yourself ready for work, I’ll take care of Jack.”

Amanda scowled. “But they can do without me for a half hour. You can get started on your new book.”

Erin opened her mouth, but hesitated. “I’ll have plenty of time to work after I take care of him.”

Amanda huffed and left the room. She’d catch her father before he left for the bank, but intended to see Jack and question him further.

Thoroughly Modern Amanda is available from The Wild Rose Press

And is now an Amazon Kindle book

And a Nook Book at Barnes and Noble

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5 Responses

  1. Great post. The only thing I disagree with is your contention that women in the early 20th century were looking for other opportunities by attending college. During that time, and, indeed, though the 1960′s many women attended college for their Mrs. degrees. Even when I was in high school, women were not encouraged to enter into occupations other than teacher, nurse, and secretary. Barring women from professional school and jobs was still legal and done frequently.

  2. Hi, Ella! Good point. When I researched this piece, I was surprised by how many women entered into higher education in the nineteenth century. But I’m sure their parents hoped they’d find a professional man to marry, so they could settle down to raise a family. A single woman in that time would have been labeled a spinster, although there were a few career women. And when you think of it, that time period did resemble the 1950s and early 60s before the women’s movement hit its peak.

  3. Congratulations on completing your tour, Susan! I love the Victorian era/and the transition to the Edwardian era. Just love ‘em! Can’t imagine living then (as I have already lived through “no credit card in my name but only my husband’s name” and “have to wear skirts to school and work”), but I still love the era and enjoy time travels to the Victorian era…

    Bess McBride

  4. Hi, Bess! Thanks for stopping by. I do remember having to wear skirts and dresses all the way up to my Freshman year in high school. That’s when it all started to change. For the better, I think.

    It’s so hard to imagine what women in the nineteenth century had to endure that led to both the suffrage and feminist movements.

  5. Bess McBride is the winner of the PDF and gift certificate! Congrats!

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