College women's involvement in dress and their relationship to images of themselves, including that of the "New Woman," 1895-1920

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Casto, Mary
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Textiles and Clothing

An English novelist coined the term "New Woman" in 1894 as a reference to the many transformations in women's traditional roles occurring at the time. One of the changes, which started in the years after the Civil War, was women attending college. Over time the college woman became synonymous with the "New Woman," in the eyes of society, if not necessarily the women themselves. Certainly the concerns about changes in the traditional roles of wife, mother, and homemaker associated with the "New Woman," were also associated with the college woman. Over the years 1895 to 1920, society, periodicals, universities, and college women debated the supposed dichotomy of traditional roles and college attendance. Many concerns centered around ideas that men did not marry college graduates, that graduates were not as attractive as other girls, and that they had no real interest in being a wife or a mother. The conclusion reached by all was that college attendance did not necessarily mean repudiation of wife and motherhood. Women who attended college were just as interested in fulfilling traditional roles as those who did not attend college. Many felt that the college-educated woman was a more qualified wife and mother than her non-college counterpart. Still, many women did attend college with career goals and no desire to marry. However, by the end of this period increasing numbers of college graduates assumed traditional roles, both within the university, through Domestic Science departments, and outside as homemakers. As a consequence of their acceptance of traditional roles, society no longer viewed college women as eccentrics. In response to this acceptance advertisers and many companies began to market products to the college woman. In advertisements, the college woman became an attractive, fashionable, young lady, who was emulated by older and younger women alike; she was a full-fledged part of society.

Tue Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2002