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John Harvard's Journal

Imagine That!

March-April 2007

A woman repairing an automobile—and showing us the tops of her stockings! This is not a “True Woman,” domestic, docile, dependent on a man. No, she is the “New Woman,” freed from whalebone corsets and stays, spirited, athletic, demanding a right to self-determination.

“The New Woman: Images from the Sally Fox Collection,” at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Yard, through March 30, is a small but choice selection from a collection of thousands of posters, magazine covers, song sheets, postcards, stamps, advertisements, trade cards, cigar-box covers, and other ephemera documenting the aspirations and experiences of women.  Picture researcher Fox (1929-2006) amassed the collection during the course of 50 years of work; the library acquired it in 2005. The images on display provide delightful evidence of women challenging traditional notions of what proper girls ought to do.

“Aide-toi…le ciel t’aidera” (Heaven helps those who help themselves), by Ettore Tito. This illustration from the 1920s is both risqué in showing a woman with her skirt hiked up and daring in its suggestion that a woman could fill roles previously reserved for men. Self-reliant, she typifies the new woman, described in an exhibition label as “alone, competent, skilled, daring, and encroaching on male prerogatives. For this she was both ridiculed and admired.”
“Cavalerie Légère,” illustration by René Max for the French periodical Fantasio. Dressed in masculine garb, exuding confidence, this member of the Light Cavalry takes to the polo field.
“The Manless Girl,” by Frank A. Nankivell, 1902. “The manless girl is gay and free,” an accompanying verse assures viewers. The new woman was on the move. Some of them even flew airplanes. In the 1890s, the bicycle hastened women’s dress reform, providing a rationale for wearing bloomers. Susan B. Anthony is said to have declared that the bicycle did more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.
“At the Woman’s Club,” a cover illustration for Puck magazine of March 29, 1899. Joseph Keppler founded this political humor magazine in 1876. He held traditional views of the role of women, and his magazine regularly poked fun at suffragists and new women such as these two, at ease in their club.
Images courtesy of the Schlesinger Library / Photographed by Jim Harrison