This is interesting.
The New Woman arrived in the United States from Western Europe in the 1910s. The American version became known as the Flapper and became famous in the 1920s.
“The New Woman was the term used at the end of the nineteenth century to describe women who were pushing against the limits which society imposed on women. Today she might be called a liberated woman or feminist. Gail Finney gives a concise description of her:
The New Woman typically values self-fulfillment and independence rather than the stereotypically feminine ideal of self-sacrifice; believes in legal and sexual equality; often remains single because of the difficulty of combining such equality with marriage; is more open about her sexuality than the ‘Old Woman’; is well-educated and reads a great deal; has a job; is athletic or otherwise physically vigorous and, accordingly, prefers comfortable clothes (sometimes male attire) to traditional female garb.
Ibsen supported greater freedom for women and expressed his belief in his plays. In his notes for A Doll’s House, he asserted, “A woman cannot be herself in contemporary society, it is an exclusively male society with laws drafted by men, and with counsel and judges who judge feminine conduct from the male point of view.” Ibsen’s contemporaries associated him with the New Woman and women’s rights. In 1898, the Norwegian Women’s Rights League gave a banquet to honor him for his support of women’s rights. How identified he was with this issue is suggested by Max Beerbohm’s exaggerated, if witty statement, “The New Woman sprang fully armed from Ibsen’s brain.”
The New Woman was the creation of the Norwegian Modernist playwright Henrik Ibsen. The Neue Frau was the German version of the same ideal in Weimar Germany.
The following excerpt comes from Henry F. May’s book The End of American Innocence, 1912-1917:
“Young Intellectuals constantly attacked Puritanism; actually, nineteenth-century Anglo-Americans were stricter about sexual morality than their Puritan ancestors. Liberal religion, giving less emphasis than its predecessors to the theological virtues, gave more to some kind of conduct. In 1912 religious liberals, respectable freethinkers of the Ingersoll kind, and staunch evangelical Christians still saw eye to eye about sexual morality.
Chastity was, whether by divine precept or common consent, as absolute a good as honesty, and (this was tacitly admitted) far more difficult. Not all Americans agreed with Billy Sunday about the reality of a personal devil, but most had reason to believe in temptation. Paradox lay at the root of the matter: sexual intercourse in marriage was a sacred duty, romantic love the most beautiful thing in life, and sexual lust evil. Since women, except the depraved few, were naturally pure, it was best that they have jurisdiction over the whole field of sexual relations. The duty of men was to make every effort to grow up pure, and especially to avoid the debilitating dangers that arose from evil thoughts. The crown of the whole civilization was the American family, with the father supreme in the economic sphere but the mother, freer and more respected than the women of other countries, in special charge of morals.”
“The Young Intellectuals, rejecting many parts of traditional ideology, turned against the doctrine of Anglo-Saxon superiority with special delight and enthusiasm. For them the only hope for American culture lay in the influx of cheerful Italians and soulful Slavs. For opposite reasons, many of them agreed with the extreme racists in disliking the idea of the melting-pot. Immigrant cultures just be preserved to leaven the solid Anglo-Saxon lump. Disregarding sociologists like Ross, the Young Intellectuals turned instead to the Boas school of anthropology. From it they learned, with pleasure, that there was no sound reason for assuming that any one culture was superior to another.
As the defenders of the Anglo-Saxon ascendancy became less complacent and more shrill, the rebels became angrier. Their generous enthusiasm for the underdog sometimes became a positive preference for whatever was most alien or primitive. Sometimes it was to seen that any set of customs could be tolerated but one’s own. And the crime of racial snobbery was added, sometimes justly and sometimes not, to the indictment against the Puritan bigot. In their turn the younger generation was accused of racial treason, almost as serious a charge as moral revolution.”
The Young Intellectuals embraced Modernism in Greenwich Village. Many of them were socialists or anarchists. They picked up elitism from Nietzsche. They picked up sexual liberation from Freud and H.G. Wells and vitalism from Henri Bergson. They picked up antiracism from Franz Boas. They picked up cosmopolitanism from the pragmatists William James and John Dewey and defined themselves against the Anglo-American Puritans and the Genteel Tradition.