The 20th Century Woman (1901)
(From the New York World – January 1, 1901)
By Harriet Hubbard Ayer
Hail to the woman of the 20th century!
In her highest expressions she takes her place in the evolution of the world, and her rightful claim to superiority over the typical woman of the early part of the last century must be accorded without sentiment or prejudice by every fair-minded person.
Physically alone the girl of the 20th century has made marvelous strides over the typical maiden of the early part of the 19th century.
Those of us who have watched her development exult today in the 20th century maiden, with her bright, roguish eyes, her blowing hair, her radiant health and magnificent spirits, her sunburned face, even her abandon, which I grant sometimes is carried too far, and jars a little even on advanced ears; yet we know it is a thousand times more hopeful and more wholesome than the affectation and sentimentality which stood for womanliness in her great-great-granddame.
Taken physically alone, the girl of today is a goddess compared to her sister of 1800.
She is taller, stronger, more harmoniously formed, weighs more and lives longer than her progenitor, who entered the 19th century the same age.
The average height of the woman of 1800 was five feet three inches
Today it is five feet six inches.
A well-formed, symmetrical girl today will weigh 135 pounds, with not an ounce of superfluous flesh on her harmoniously developed body.
The maid of 1800 was regarded as vulgar if she had not the appearance of being extremely delicate physically, and 100 pounds was her average weight.
The 20th-century girl is a creature of splendid health, superb vigor and adorable fitness for the most sacred functions that devolve upon her sex.
Look up your old miniatures, your family portraits, your novels and diaries of the beginning of the 19th century and agree with me that beside the fragile, half-invalid, wholly dependent and angelic prettiness which historically reveal our forbears, the short-skirted, sensibly-shod, rosy-cheeked daughter of 1901 is altogether adorable by contrast to the eye of the beholder.
The heroines of Richardson’s novels, with their ringlets, there fainting fits, there megrims, their tears, their follies and little tragedies we must assume were founded on something real in the way of womankind at that period.
Youth was inevitably associated with book-muslin curls, a small rosebud mouth and an innocence which stood for an absolute ignorance of all life’s problems, that exposed every girl to incalculable dangers and made her a mere puppet in the hands of the first man who chose to beguile her.
But not only physically does the young woman of the 20th century present herself equipped for the duties of life. She takes her place beside man mentally. What he has done she can do; she has proved it in thousands of fields where, without education or knowledge or preparation, she has out-reached the male competitor.
Not a shadow’s length behind the 20th-century youth in her mentality does our new woman lag.
Morally – and here I can almost picture the rattling of bones in the old New York church vaults, where the dust of our sweet ancestors awaits eternity! – morally, the 20th-century woman insists upon equality, which finds no sin in sex, and declares for equal punishment for evil, equal reward for good without sex distinctions.
The woman of the 20th century is the most hopeful product of the closed cycle.
As loving, as loyal, as virtuous, as unselfish, as any of the sheltered angels of the old regime, she takes the place her mother has earned for her, and claims the opportunity of working out her own destiny, the right for the full and untrammeled exercise of all her faculties.
Not behind man, not as his inferior, not as a petted doll enshrouded in cotton, a think apart from all the earnest side of life – but as his equal in capacity and responsibility in the strenuous struggle to reach high ideals.
There are six million of us in this country today, wage-earners in professional and industrial callings. Six million money-making women in occupations requiring more or less skill.
Except for the Army and Navy, we have stormed every profession and utilized every trade, in a determination each woman to become a conqueror in the conflict of life.
When it comes to the oft-repeated attack that the womanliness of the sex has been sacrificed to her emancipation, I beg leave, with reference, to point to a lady who realizes the highest ideal of beauty, womanliness, modesty and nobility of the past or of any century.
The evolution of woman has brought us our Helen Gould, the truest example, and the acknowledged and revered pattern new woman of the 20th century.
Miss Gould, a girl of wealth untold, a member of the New York Bar, Lady Bountiful to thousands, aye hundreds of thousands of her countrymen.
I claim her as representing at her best the new woman, and for the greatest hope of the new century I point to that beloved lady first in the tender affection and reverence of her countrywomen.
|Helen Miller Gould Shepard|
|Born||Helen Miller Gould
June 20, 1868
|Died||December 21, 1938 (aged 70)
Roxbury, New York
|Spouse(s)||Finlay Johnson Shepard (1867–1942)|
Helen Day Miller (1838–1889)
|Relatives||George Jay Gould I, brother
Edwin Gould I, brother
Anna Gould, sister
Frank Jay Gould, brother