The New Woman
Womanhood and literature at the turn of the 19th century
The New Woman | The Victorian Woman | Education & Work | Marriage & Sexuality | Fiction | Cartoons | Works Cited
By the end of the 19th century, many of the social limitations of the Victorian period became insufferable, especially for the people who received the brunt of social scrutiny: women and minorities.
Kate Chopin developed as a writer during a period that saw vast changes in the way in which women viewed themselves in society, how they understood their sexuality, and how they would come to define themselves outside of marriage and the home.
Chopin herself was a progressive woman who, after her husband died, took on many roles that were traditionally reserved for men. Supporting her family with her writing, her New Woman novels became some of the most profound of the period because her works speak to the deeper psychological implications such dramatic societal changes would create.
If Kate Chopin had ever met with a true "new woman" in her lifetime, it would have Victoria Claflin Woodhull. In the notes that Chopin kept about her honeymoon travels with her husband, she described meeting the soon to be well-known suffragist on a train to New York. Chopin noted that "Miss Claflin" was a "fussy, pretty, talkative little woman," who "entreated me not to fall into the useless degrading life of most married ladies, but to elevate my mind and turn my attention to politics, commerce; questions of state, &c. I assured her I would do so" (Gilbert). Claflin would go on to be notoriously remembered as the first woman to run for the office of U.S. President in 1872 and she became a continuous symbol of woman's suffrage, rights, and free love.