“Girl of Today” not so different 100 years ago

Posted by Teresa Leonard on October 23, 2013 

In the early part of the 20th century, The New York Times set out to find the “typical American girl” for their Girl of Today promotion. Suffragette Harriot Stanton Blatch of New York City had a little something to say on the matter.

Keen interest in the effort of The New York Times to find the truly typical American girl of the day was expressed yesterday by Mrs. Harriot Stanton Blatch. ... Mrs. Blatch is president of the Women’s Political Union, and in the course of her work comes in contact with many young women in all parts of the United States.

“There is no question,” said Mrs. Blatch at her home ..., “that a new type of girl has been evolved in this country these last few years. ...

“Athletics are having an influence upon the American girl, and on the greater opportunities for education which all classes of girls in this country enjoy. The girl of today is not being taught that she is an inferior being; she is being taught to use her mind and her body to the very best advantage.

“What do I think of the typical American girl of the day? Well, as I see her, physically she is much more lithe and slender than the girls of other nationalities. I should say her coloring is not all I would like to see it. It is not so rosy as that of the English girl. Perhaps climate is partly to blame, but not altogether. ...

“On the whole, I should say young American girls sit up too late. They look to me a little bit tired. Mentally, I find them very alert and well-informed. ... I have found both American girls and boys immensely interesting to talk to. I believe they really think and often arrive at sounder judgment than their elders. Perhaps it is because the heavy hand of life has not laid so much upon them, and they are a little more ready at expressing their thoughts. ...

“I think the country girl is immensely like the city girl. I notice in going even into small places, where girls have never been to the big cities, that they dress much the same, and display the same freedom and alertness. Perhaps the likeness in dress is due to a judicious study of the fashion papers and the alertness of mind – a compliment to the excellent public school system, which is often better in the country than in the large city. That I cannot say. Anyhow, the type exists in both the city and the country.

“I really feel only one anxiety about the American girl. She does not know, and is not being taught, how to take care of herself. She is constantly wearing shoes that are too thin, and all over the country she sits up too late.

“The efforts of The Times to find the real type of the present day American girl will prove a most interesting experiment, but don’t make her think she is the most wonderful girl on earth. I doubt if she is. She has not the staying power of the English girl. My advice to her would be to beware of too much steam heat, too much candy, and too little sleep.”

The New York Times is seeking the typical American girl of today in order to present her by the most artistic pictorial method.... The judges will be seven famous artists known as creators of types which represent phases of the American girl today. From the photographs sent in, twenty-nine will be selected and reproduced in a special section... of The Times by the new rotogravure process. From the twenty-nine the “Girl of Today” will be selected, and her picture will cover the entire front page of the Christmas section. The News & Observer 10/11/1913

Advertising from 1913 editions of The New York Times went on to say that “The choices prove an oft-heard assertion that the typical American girl is a many-sided young woman. She appears in all her charming roles from the bronzed devotee of outdoor life to the dainty creature of laces and frills.” But the real purpose of the “Girl of Today” contest was to introduce readers to a new printing process.

Rotogravure, the new process of printing, is an adaptation of the old photogravure method to modern requirements. A fast rotary press turns out rotogravure prints which are hardly distinguishable from the old-style illustrations produced with painstaking slowness. The two sections filled with pictures of typical American girls – last Sunday and next Sunday mark the first use of the new process for entire newspaper sections in America. You will want The Girl of Today pictures both because the subjects are extraordinarily attractive and because the new method of reproduction forecasts a revolution in current illustrating. The New York Times 12/9/1913

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