The New Modern Woman


Art Deco Bookends of Nude Seated Woman with Green Finish (LEO Design)


The 1920's marked the birth of a new Modern Woman.  During World War I, while many American men were at war in Europe, women joined the paid labor force as never before (often replacing men who had been sent-off to fight).  More women than ever experienced a taste of moving within the commercial working world and enjoyed increased independence, the result of earning their own wages.  After the war, some women did return to home and hearth.  But many more women seized the opportunity to reinvent their roles in society. Working outside of the home was one of the biggest changes.  But style and fashion underwent changes, too.  "Bobbed" hairstyles reflected the modern, sporty times.  Clothing was revolutionized: out went the corsets and in came the flirty, dropped-waist dresses.  Women began to drive, smoke and live alone more than ever before.  And American women won the right to vote in 1920.

This was not the first time womanhood had been modernized.  The turn-of-the-century, 25 years earlier, saw the invention of the Gibson Girl, at the time considered the new American woman.  Fashion was loosened-up and women were shown playing sports like tennis or bicycling.  But this earlier "reinvention" was far more modest than the Twenties revolution—and it was likely to have affected the upper classes more than the working woman.

The idealized female form also evolved in art, fashion and design.  Slimmer, less curvaceous, more athletic bodies became the ideal, in-keeping with the more active and sporty lives lived by the modern woman.  And women were portrayed with more confidence—not a hot house flower but a creature of intention and agency.

The bookends shown above, made in the 1920's, depict a relaxed and confident woman, seated nude upon her folded legs.  Her bobbed hair and confident air captures perfectly the New American Woman who emerged in the aftermath of the Great War.  Click on the photo above to learn more about them.


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (

We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques ( or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248