Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Open Access


Degree Name

MA in Women's History

First Advisor

Lyde Sizer

Second Advisor

Priscilla Murolo


Our knowledge of American girls at the turn of the twentieth century is incomplete. Scholarship on Victorian American girlhood most frequently draws evidence from the papers of privileged young white women from native-born Northeastern families. But their lives only tell part of the story. We must expand our scope to truly understand the options and opportunities for girls as they came of age in this period. This thesis explores the life of Lydia Olsson, a Swedish- American girl born to immigrant parents and living in a Midwestern city. She was one of a growing number of young women participating in a quiet revolution to fundamentally alter American women’s rights and opportunities at the turn of the century. Olsson and many of the girls in her network attended college, worked for wages, and delayed marriage or chose to remain single, forging different paths than their mothers and grandmothers before them.

Here, I look at identity formation in Olsson’s Swedish Lutheran world; Swedish and American norms and ideals of womanhood; friendship and community; and the shift towards companionate marriage with a focus on re-examining the stereotype of the spinster.

Lydia Olsson’s story serves as a crucial window onto a wider community of middle-class women living in Midwestern towns and cities during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I argue that Olsson and girls like her merit our attention, and that women’s historians must consider lives like theirs to fully understand young womanhood at the turn of the century.

Submission Agreement