Pablo A. Ramirez, “The Woman of Tomorrow: Gertrude Atherton and the Latina Foremother of the Californian New Woman” (pp. 502–534)
Throughout the 1890s, Gertrude Atherton employs the figure of the aristocratic Californiana (Mexican Californian woman) to extend classical liberalism’s economic model of individualism to include women. By joining the aristocratic Californiana with American liberalism, Atherton transforms California’s history of capitalist development into a romance in which the creation of new markets generates not only profits, but the New Woman as well. In Atherton’s stories of Alta California, which I call “tales of romantic liberalism,” the history and evolution of California and the New Woman is narrated through the promises (or contracts) that a Californiana character makes and the obligations she accepts or rejects. The Californiana in The Doomswoman (1893) and Before the Gringo Came (1894) becomes the foundation for the New Woman, whose personal development and advancement promises to perfect liberal capitalism through her consensual romantic unions. As the decade drew to a close and the war with Spain became imminent, however, one can see in Atherton’s The Californians (1898) her growing fear that the massification of politics and culture imperiled not only liberal capitalism and democracy, but the evolution of women’s individuality as well. As a result, the evolution of the Californiana character is no longer reliant on a union with a capitalist contractarian partner but on the reaffirmation of her aristocratic individualism. Through her Californiana heroines, Atherton engages the Californio past in order to imagine the evolution of women’s individuality as the United States undergoes a shift from classical liberalism to modern liberalism and from republic to overseas empire.