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New and Improved

New and Improved: The Transformation of American Women's Emotional Culture

John C. Spurlock
Cynthia A. Magistro
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 228
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  • Book Info
    New and Improved
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3981-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 Self and Emotion in the Early Twentieth Century
    (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 sarcasm and exasperation. “There was considerable old-fashioned emotionalism both in audience and speaker,” she wrote, “the usual front-seat bore who snorts ‘praise the Lord’ whenever the speaker makes a point you might have liked to hear, a good deal about white-haired mother waiting on the other side, and little children at the gate of...

  5. 2 Flaming Youth
    (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.” Later in the same entry she asked whether her recent excursions into smoking, necking, and drinking showed that she was downgrading or upgrading and then added, “Gosh, I like to think I’m a devil, don’t I?” Her question gave her a way of poking fun at the cynical and sophisticated airs she enjoyed describing in her...

  6. 3 The Single Woman
    (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 show the transition from adolescence to life as an independent woman with almost dizzying speed. Beginning in August, the diary’s brief entries report on her social life and on her first teaching experience. Within a month she had broken up with one boyfriend and quickly found another. Her dates sound like those...

  7. 4 The Flapper Wife
    (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 gave way to periods of emotional estrangement. She attributed virtually all of their problems to her own personality and vowed to remake herself. “Already I am struggling to conquer myself,” she wrote several months after her wedding; “my nerves, my habits, my selfishness, my irritable instincts of the recluse, just for his sake…. Many times a day...

  8. 5 The Silver Cord
    (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 after their college years, she did not have husband hunting in mind when she wrote about parenthood. She referred, instead, to her training in psychology and sociology. Martha Lavell drew her ideals of marriage and family from her reading in the social sciences of the late 1920s and from the discussions on these...

  9. 6 The Fountain
    (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 from college Ruth continued in a downward spiral marked by increasing distress, inactivity, and alcohol use. Through her period of deepest depression Ruth considered entertainer Harry Richman to be her one friend, even though she never met him, and she found her greatest consolation in the sound of his voice. On one particularly bad day...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 171-206)
  11. Index
    (pp. 207-212)
  12. About the Authors
    (pp. 213-214)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 215-215)