When department stores were new

Ready-made clothes were part of women’s new urban mobility

Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones, The Shoe Shop, c. 1911, oil on canvas, 99.1 x 79.4 cm (Art Institute of Chicago). Speakers: Dr. Annelise Madsen, Gilda and Henry Buchbinder Assistant Curator of American Art, The Art Institute of Chicago and Dr. Beth Harris

Sparhawk-Jones, Shoe Shop

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Key points

  • The department store changed the way people shopped and provided new opportunities for social mobility and interaction between the classes in late 19th-century America.
  • Sparhawk-Jones used loose brushwork to capture the fast-paced movement of people within the department store. Her choice of subject for this painting emphasized the increased freedom of women in the modern city—a freedom that Sparhawk-Jones also enjoyed.
  • Women in the early 20th century were increasingly engaged with fighting for their rights, and finally won the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Learn more about this painting from the Art Institute of Chicago

Read an interview with Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones

Learn about the evolution of the department store

What was it like to work in a shoe factory in the early 20th century?

Learn more about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire

How did women become political and social activists in early 20th century?

Why did American artists embrace the Impressionist style to depict modern life?

More to think about

The Shoe Shop highlights the relationship of the department store to economic and social conditions in the U.S during the early 20th century. How do you think contemporary shopping practices reflect economic and social conditions in the early 21st century?

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

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Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.