N is for New Woman (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)

ROARING TWENTIES - New Woman - The 1920s brought about a new way of thinking in so many ways, which allowed new spaces to so many people. Women found themselves in the position to demand more equality. Middle and upper-class women gained mor efreedom than they ever had before

N“Shameless, selfish and honest, she takes a man’s point of view as her mother never could.”
This is how the New York Time defined the flapper in a article of July 16, 1922.

In the Twenties, the flapper attracted a lot of attention from everyone, scared older people as well as excited young people, and created a new vision for all women. Everybody talked about her and even back then she was glamorized and fantasized upon as much as we do today.
This was a woman who knew she could compete with men at the same level and took up many of men’s attitudes her mother would never dreamed of: smoking, drinking, dating, petting. She wasn’t afraid of her sexuality and lived it with joy, enjoying looking sexy, wearing dresses that showed rather then cover, a kind of dress that allowed her to be a companion to men in many activities that her mother couldn’t think to involved herself with.
f3dc9736a9e9836df4c9e7999db6a72aThis is what we think about today when we think about flappers, and this is what most of people who talked about flappers in the Twenties thought about. But was the flapper really an all around, accurate representation of women in the 1920s?
To be a flapper, a woman had to have enough money and free time to play the part, so let’s see how women faired.

Having free time already restricted the possibility to be a flapper to mostly young women and especially college girls. This doesn’t mean other women didn’t try to go along. In fact, flapper fashion was taken on by most women. Their new freer way of presenting themselves was adopted even by their mothers – if they could afford it, because let’s face it, dressing like a flapper wasn’t cheap.

So you needed to be young (that is, not having the responsibility of a family) and have some money on your hands.
In the Twenties, after during WWI women took up jobs vacated by men gone to war, the idea of women working for wages started to become acceptable. So there were indeed many young women who worked, and they were extremely glamorized by films and magazines as the new, independent woman.
Still, the ideal life that even most women desired was still a family life. Young women dated and petted, but that was considered acceptable only if it ended up in marriage. Likewise, working women were accepted only as long as they would stop working once they got married  and leave the business of earning money to their husbands. This led to women’s work be considered temporary and never supposed to led to a full blown career. Enthused upon as they were, women professionals were still rare in the extreme.
Most women who worked in the Twenties weren’t young modern girls in search of independence, but daughters and wives of working class families trying to make ends meet. These women invariably got the lower jobs for the lower wages and all of their earnings went straight into the family budget. There wasn’t much glamour about it, any way you looked at it.

Sand Core 02As wild as flappers looked, and as true as it is that they broke with the past in many ways, their expectation for their future was still very similar to their mothers’: get a good marriage (although a more companionable one) and be a good mother and housekeeper.
There was in fact a great social pressure on this, and once again, the new ways and possibilities were greatly glamorized.
True, women who could afford it had a whole array of new appliances to help them keep their house clean and tidy, but this seldom translated into the advertised free time. Because standards of cleanliness, both personal and of the house, had risen too, a lot of the time spared by the new appliances went into doing more cleaning. There was a lot more attention to food and healthy practises. Society and magazines tended to represent the new housewife as a professional, someone who could keep pace with the new way of doing things and the knowledge necessary to do it, and because wives were generally the ones who managed the family budget, they became the preferred target of the new practice of advertising and the centre, both as young women and modern wives and mothers, of the new consumer life.

So yes, a new breed of women stepped on stage in the Twenties, but this was more of a mixed bag that it’s often considered.



NCpedia – A New Woman Emerges
History Matters – The New Woman of the 1920s: Debating Bobbed-Hair
About Education – Flapper in the Roaring Twenties
The Old Shelter – Shameless, Selfish and Honest: the new breed of woman that dominated the XX Century

The New Woman and the Politics of the 1920s by Lynn Dumenil (PDF)
The Twenties in Contemporary Commentary – The Modern Woman (PDF)

Fass, Paula S., The Damned and the Beautiful. American Youth in the 1920s. Oxford University Press, New York, 1977
Kyvig, David E., Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940. How Americans Lived Through the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the Great Depression. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, Chicago, 2002


FREE EBOOK - The Roaring Twenties A to Z

Subscribe to The Old Shelter mailing list and get this 56-pages FREE pdf

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

About the Author

I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.

38 Comments on "N is for New Woman (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)"

  1. hello, just popped in from the A-Z challenge,
    I love the 20’s era!!

    fellow A-Z Blogger
    Kim in Australia
    Kim Hine recently posted…N is for….My Profile

  2. You should turn this entire #AtoZchallenge in to a book when all is said and done. I love reading all of your articles!

    –Mee (The Chinese Quest)
    Mee Magnum recently posted…The Chinese Quest Meets The CleaverMy Profile

  3. I learned a lot about the flapper lifestyle and how we evolved to where we are today in your post.
    Visit me at: Life & Faith in Caneyhead
    I am Ensign B of Tremps’ Troops
    with the A to Z Challenge
    Barbara In Caneyhead recently posted…Musical Memories – Mama Ruth and Merle HaggardMy Profile

  4. love that top photo…and so agree- to be a Flapper as we perceive it today was a luxury.
    Maybe not everyone could afford the lifestyle but the attitudes were freeing even for those without disposable income….flapping away the concretes of social programming little by little
    zannierose (A-Z ) recently posted…a-z challenge -M: Making money for others, motivating others.My Profile

    • I do think flapper lifetyle was some kind of vision for so many women, even older women. I’m actually impressed by the modernity of many flappers’ attitudes, much more modern than attitudes of women who came after, and for quite a few decades.
      But I hear a lot of people placing a lot more into flappers than it actually was there. I find that flappers’ role and place is one of the biggest misconceptions there are about the Twenties.

  5. Do you what Miss Fisher? Now there is a flapper to take on the world :).
    It’s funny how appearances can change, but expectations not, still trapping people in their roles.
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)
    Tasha recently posted…AtoZChallenge2015 – N is for NiennaMy Profile

  6. Look this series so much… I do agree with an earlier commentor. You should turn this into a handbook for the Roaring 20s. 🙂
    Alex Hurst recently posted…N is for 夏My Profile

  7. Flappers are interesting characters. Aren’t they? Such empowering women for their era.
    Sue Coletta recently posted…A Voice on Outline Driven WritingMy Profile

  8. I recall my Great Aunt talking about the 20’s. She had a “grand time”, she would tell me!
    As I See It Daily
    KaTy Did recently posted…~Nature-scape~My Profile

  9. I’m so glad we’ve continued to progress since then – but still not far enough in terms of equality.
    Anabel Marsh recently posted…Gallus Glasgow N: the National Piping CentreMy Profile

  10. My great grandma wasn’t exactly a flapper but she sure dropped a lot of jaws when she began to walk herself down to the local pub, order a beer and wait for grandpa to show up after work on Fridays! Great post!
    diedre recently posted…The Wild, Wild Best! N is for…My Profile

    • That’s a fantastic story!
      I suppose that’s the way flappers inspired all women, even thos who weren’t flappers: showing them that so many things could be done and it was ok.

  11. Interesting! A lot more complex than I thought 🙂 Thanks!

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary
    Tarkabarka recently posted…N is for the Nart sagas (Epics from A to Z)My Profile

  12. That’s a great point about standard of cleanliness going up, too. It still feels like that today – the more “modern conveniences” we come up with, the more we are expected to do!
    Sue Archer recently posted…Rogue Words from A to Z: Nauseating NightmareMy Profile

  13. New stuff here, as always. I’m particularly intrigued by this because my mom says that my grandmother was a flapper (or at least dressed as one, I’ve seen a photo) – but she was definitely a working class lady, never a lady of means.
    Jeri Burns recently posted…Daily Ghost Post – N is for NachzehrerMy Profile

    • I’ve read that girls who remotely had the means to dress like a flapper, whould do anything to achieve theri goal. It was a kind of status symbol, I suppose.

  14. I’ve dressed up as a flapper for Halloween and Purim several times. I love their style, though I’d never be able to go all the way and achieve that unnaturally boyish figure with my ample bust!
    Carrie-Anne recently posted…Dorothea NeffMy Profile

  15. That’s so interesting, I love that you’ve lifted the curtain on that myth of the glamorous flapper we all see in films. The way you’ve put it, it wasn’t quite as much of a liberation as novels and films would have us believe, it’s more of a first step in a looooong journey that is still going on now. (I found it depressing to read that back then women got lower jobs and lower wages, and a lot of that still happens now. As is the lack of free time because the standards of living are even higher now, even though we have an even bigger array of technology at our disposal – but at the end of the day women are still very much expected to be the housekeeper)
    Celine Jeanjean recently posted…N is for… NeverMy Profile

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the article. Yes, I did try to lift that stereotypical image, becasue that’s what it is. Women in the Twenties did break with the past, but as you say, it was just a first step.

      Well, I think today there’s much more helping each other in a couple, both regarding children and housekeeping. But in addition to higher expectency of cleanliness, there is also much less time to dedicate to the house, because both members in a couple work. And let’s be fair, it’s becoming more and more acceptable for a man to be a ‘housewife’ 😉

  16. Thank you for for sharing about the Roaring 20s. Very interesting time period and your posts are awesome.

  17. Flappers seem so modest compared to today’s pop culture icons. Wow.
    Lanise Brown recently posted…P is for Paris’ Sainte Geneviève LibraryMy Profile

    • I wouldn’t know 😉
      I was actually very surprised to discover how much of our culture (that we consider so modern) was already present in the Twenties flapper movement.

  18. What a fantastic era to be writing about, Sarah… I’m enjoying it so much, and the pieces about women in particular as it really seemed to be the first era which took notice of women as individuals in their own right, didn’t it? Your series is my favourite in the A-Z Challenge this year by far (but Shhhh, don’t tell anyone, or I’ll get in trouble) 😉

    • Tara, I’m so happy to see you here. I didnt’ know you were lurcking on my AtoZ thread 😉

      Thanks for the nice words. This challange is really… well, challanging, more than I expected. Knowing people enjoys my efforts makes all the difference 🙂

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: