SOCIAL REFORM AND SUFFRAGE
IN THE PROGRESSIVE ERA,
In 1896, when Isadore Miner (later Callaway) became the women’s editor of the Dallas Morning News, she christened her new domain the “Woman’s Century” page to alert readers that she intended to chronicle women’s achievements, not report on soirees and style changes. Social commentators often referred to the nineteenth century as the Woman’s Century or the Woman’s Era because women for the first time organized to demand emancipation: the right to obtain higher education, to enter the professions, to control their own property after marriage, and to vote. A few of the bravest had even abandoned their heavy, floor-sweeping dresses for short, comfortable bloomers that permitted complete freedom of movement. The bloomer experiment quickly passed, but the nineteenth century saw a series of firsts for women. They were the first generation to attend college, to campaign for suffrage, to lobby for married women’s property laws, to argue collectively for women’s rights. They were the first to become doctors, professors, and, like Isadore Callaway, newspaperwomen.
If the nineteenth century, the ERA of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, was the Woman’s Century, the twentieth century might justly be called the New Woman’s Century. The New Woman was the icon of the age. At the turn of the century she still lacked political equality, but she was defining a new ideal of white, middle-class womanhood. Liberated from crinolines and bustles, the New Woman wore a high-necked shirtwaist blouse (factory-made and easy to launder) and an ankle-length A-line skirt, an outfit for the public sphere and no impediment even to bicycling, tennis, or hiking. The New Woman was educated, perhaps even a college graduate, and productively occupied. No longer restricted to teaching, she might be a settlement house resident, a social worker, or even a stunt pilot like Katherine Stinson, one of the first women to earn an aviator’s license, who with her family operated the Stinson School of Flying in San Antonio. And like Perle Penfield, a student at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston who spent the summer before her 1915 graduation working as an organizer for the Texas