You’ve Come a Long Way

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The years between 1912 and 1927 saw some of the biggest changes for women in all of history.  They went from being literally hobbled by society and their clothing to the freedom of the flappers in the space of 15 years.  Wearing four historically accurate costumes, complete with undergarments, Tames takes you on an amazing journey that highlights the beginning of women’s emancipation.

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The year is 1912.  Women had no right to own property, vote, or have the option of a higher education.  To be a true woman of this era, one must focus all her energy on the maneuvers to make a proper marriage and motherhood.

Tames begins this four-costume show dressed as a fashionable upperclass woman of 1912, complete with period corset, a 20-pound hat, and a hobble strap between her legs to keep her steps small enough to avoid ripping the extremely narrow hemlines that were popular.  Not only were women of this era restricted by society and their clothing, they were frustrated by having no outlet for their energy.  These women truly lived lives as birds in a gilded cage.

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Between the years of 1914-1918, World War One raged.  Thousands of men went “over there” to fight at the Western Front.  To show their support for King and country, over 50,000 women volunteered to nurse the wounded.  Through the crucible of the war, women proved to
themselves and society they were more capable than anyone ever thought they could be.

Dressed as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), complete with reform corset, and able to pass inspection by the strictest matron, Tames describes what the harsh and often dangerous life was like at the Western Front for the many upperclass women who volunteered in droves to nurse the wounded.  Most of these women had never held a broom or mop in their lives, but with typical British attitude, they rolled up their sleeves and got on with the job, earning the reluctant respect of the trained nurses and doctors.  On the battlefields, in the casualty clearing stations at the front, and in hospitals behind the lines, women proved they had courage, endurance, intelligence, and fortitude.  After the war, no one could deny women their rights.  This is truly the beginning of women’s emancipation.

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The year is 1923.  Women have the right to vote, but are fighting desperately for rights in the workplace and the ability to earn a living.  There was a great deal of prejudice both from society and male bosses, who thought women should go back to the way they were before the war.

Britain lost over 2/3 of its male population in the aftermath of World War One and the influenza epidemic, forcing businesses to hire women, and dashing all hopes of marriage for the majority of women, who society labeled “the surplus women.”  Dressed as a professional office worker in a skirt at least 6 inches below the knees, Tames discusses what life was like for these underpaid, undertrained, and harassed women who had no hope for marriage and were forced into a life that went against society’s expectations.  Working and living conditions were a struggle for these women, who lived with the motto of, “Three shillings a week and not enough to eat.”  Despite male prejudice, women were working their way into the all-male bastions of the business world.  With the perseverance learned from the war years, these women broke through the barriers put in their way and not only climbed the corporate ladder but became bosses and started their own businesses.

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The year is 1927.  Women are bobbing their hair, hemlines have risen above the knee, and women are liberally using makeup even on their knees.  They go to parties without escorts, smoke, drink, and dance the Charleston.  The ’20’s are definitely roaring!

Dressed as a flapper in a short, beaded fringe dress with rolled-down stockings and a pair of camiknickers, Tames brings to life the world of the radical “bright young things.”  People think that the youth of the late 1960’s and early ’70’s were radical, but they had nothing on the flappers of the late 1920’s, who lived lives of sex, drugs, and hot jazz as a way to rebel against the older generation’s disregard for the lives lost during the war.  Aided by easy access to the automobile and the freedom to travel alone, these women broke the mold that you had to marry or have a man to be a whole woman.  Compared to the other women portrayed in this program, the flappers were truly liberated. With disregard for what society thought, they found freedom in breaking all the rules.  They smoked in public, went to petting parties, and started dating rather than courting.  Despite all this, more women than ever were attending universities and rising to prominence in the professions.