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New and Improved

The Transformation of American Women's Emotional Culture

John Spurlock, Cynthia Magistro

Publication Year: 1998

As the Victorian era drew to a close, American culture experienced a vast transformation. In many ways, the culture changed even more rapidly and profoundly for women. The "new woman," the "new freedom," and the "sexual revolution" all referred to women moving out of the Victorian home and into the public realm that men had long claimed as their own.

Modern middle-class women made a distinction between emotional styles that they considered Victorian and those they considered modern. They expected fulfillment in marriage, companionship, and career, and actively sought up-to-date versions of love and happiness, relieved that they lived in an age free from taboo and prudery.

Drawing on the diaries, letters, and memoirs of women from a wide range of backgrounds and geographic regions, this volume offers insights into middle-class women's experiences of American culture in this age of transition. It documents the ways in which that culture--including new technologies, advertising, and movies--shaped women's emotional lives and how these women appropriated the new messages and ideals. In addition, the authors describe the difficulties that women encountered when emotional experiences failed to match cultural expectations.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

This is a study of the emotional lives of adolescent and adult women in the United States in the early twentieth century. We assume that culture plays an important role in shaping the emotions of individuals. Consequently, we have relied on the work of cultural and social historians...

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1. Self and Emotion in the Early Twentieth Century

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pp. 1-16

In February 1918 Viola White, a graduate of Wellesley College working as a clerk typist in New York City, attended a revival given by the evangelist William Biedernolf. An Episcopalian and a socialist, White probably attended out of curiosity. Her journal entry on the event mixes...

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2. Flaming Youth

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pp. 17-52

By age fourteen Beth Twiggar, growing up in Ossining, New York, began writing diary entries that she believed would shock her middle-class parents. For instance, in February 1928 she wrote, "In bed, with cold cream smeared all over my face, nonchalantly smoking a cigarette."...

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3. The Single Woman

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pp. 53-86

In 1919 eighteen-year-old Gladys Bell began keeping the diaries and journals that would record her emotional life for the next sixty years. She grew up on a farm in southwestern Pennsylvania and by age eighteen had earned a teaching certificate. The first few pages of Bell's first diary...

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4. The Flapper Wife

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pp. 87-116

Shortly after she married Lorin Thompson in 1924, writer Winifred Willis came to believe that she was fundamentally unsuited to marriage. Although she loved her husband passionately, she found that the harmony and intimacy of their courtship and first weeks of marriage quickly...

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5. The Silver Cord

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pp. 117-150

"One of my favorite fancies is that during my college years I have been training for parenthood," Martha Lavell reflected during her senior year at the University of Minnesota. Although in some sense Lavell's fancy held true for many women who expected to marry during or shortly...

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6. The Fountain

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pp. 151-170

In 1930 twenty-year-old Ruth Raymond entered a period of emotional difficulty that would last for over five years. Her suffering centered around feelings of inadequacy and anxiety which surfaced in relation to her college work, first at Mt. Holyoke and later at Radcliffe. After withdrawing...


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pp. 171-206


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pp. 207-212

About the Authors, Back Cover

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pp. 213-215

E-ISBN-13: 9780814739815
E-ISBN-10: 0814739814
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814780459
Print-ISBN-10: 0814780458

Page Count: 220
Publication Year: 1998

OCLC Number: 859686102
MUSE Marc Record: Download for New and Improved

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Subject Headings

  • Women -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women -- United States -- Psychology -- History -- 20th century.
  • Emotions -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Social life and customs -- 20th century -- Psychological aspects.
  • Emotions in literature.
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