Women's lives at the end of the nineteenth century were changing dramatically on various fronts, most visibly so for daughters middle and upper classes. Female education was expanding, with the secondary school system growing rapidly. From 1890 to 1920, women comprised 55% all high school students and 60% all high school graduates. By 1900, all but three state universities admitted women on same terms as men (Virginia, Georgia and Louisiana)… Going to college was a badge of class privilege but for some women, it was also a badge of aspiration signifying goals beyond the ordinary horizons of most women. Acquiring higher education signified that a woman was busy with worldly and not just domestic occupations. White, native-born women were joining white foreign-born and black women in the labor force for first time and despite exploitative conditions under which they sometimes labored. These women were increasingly to be found in the previously male domains of business and the professions. The percentage of female professionals reached an historic peak in the early twentieth century while new and highly visible white collar occupations provided work for secretaries and salesgirls.
Gainfully employed and educated "new women" represented to themselves and to society a kind of vanguard of social usefulness and personal autonomy--independent womanhood. Women determined to extend boundaries and raise stakes woman movement.
"They are all social workers, or magazine writers in a small way. They are decidedly emancipated and advanced, and so thoroughly healthy and zestful, or at least it seems so to my unsophisticated masculine sense. They shock you constantly...They have an amazing combination of wisdom and youthfulness, of humor and ability, and innocence and self-reliance, which absolutely belies everything you will read in the story-books or any other description of womankind. They are of course all self-supporting and independent, and they enjoy the adventure of life; the full, reliant, audacious way in which they go about makes you wonder if the new woman isn't to be a very splendid sort of person."