THE RISE OF PERSONAL FREEDOM

During the Progressive era, as journalist William M. Reedy jested, it struck “sex o’clock” in America. The founder of psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, lectured at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1909, and discovered that his writings on infantile sexuality, repression, and the irrational sources of human behavior were widely known “even in prudish America.” Issues of intimate personal relations previously confined to private discussion blazed forth in popular magazines and public debates.

Isadora Duncan brought a new freedom to an old art form.

For the generation of women who adopted the word “feminism” to express their demand for greater liberty, free sexual expression and reproductive choice emerged as critical definitions of women’s emancipation. Greenwich Village became a center of sexual experimentation. The aura of tolerance attracted many homosexuals to the area, and although organized demands for gay rights lay far in the future, the gay community became an important element of the Village’s lifestyle. But new sexual attitudes spread far beyond bohemia; they flourished among the young, unmarried, self-supporting women who made sexual freedom a hallmark of their oft-proclaimed personal independence.

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