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An Overview of the 1920's


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The Roaring Twenties:

The Roaring Twenties

Changing Ways of Life:

Changing Ways of Life During the 1920s, urbanization continued to accelerate. For the first time, more Americans lived in cities than in rural areas . New York City was home to over 5 million people in 1920. Chicago had nearly 3 million.

Urban vs. Rural:

Urban vs. Rural Throughout the 1920s, Americans found themselves caught between urban and rural cultures. Urban life was considered a world of anonymous crowds, strangers , money-makers, and pleasure seekers. Rural life was considered to be safe, with close personal ties , hard work, and morals. Cities were impersonal Farms were friendly


Prohibition One example of the clash between city & farm was the passage of the 18 th Amendment in 1920. This Amendment launched the era known as Prohibition. The new law made it illegal to make, sell or transport liquor. Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933 when it was repealed by the 21 st Amendment

Support for Prohibition:

Support for Prohibition Reformers had long believed alcohol led to crime, child & wife abuse, and accidents. Supporters were largely from the rural south and west. The church affiliated Anti-Saloon League and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union helped push the 18 th Amendment through.

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Poster supporting prohibition

Speakeasies & Bootleggers:

Speakeasies & Bootleggers Many Americans did not believe drinking was a sin. Most immigrant groups. were not willing to give up drinking. To obtain liquor illegally, drinkers went underground to hidden saloons known as speakeasies. People also bought liquor from bootleggers who smuggled it in from Canada, Cuba and the West Indies.

Organized Crime:

Organized Crime Prohibition contributed to the growth of organized crime in every major city. Chicago became notorious as the home of Al Capone – a famous bootlegger. Capone took control of the Chicago liquor business by killing off his competition. Al Capone was finally convicted on tax evasion charges in 1931

Government Fails to Control Liquor :

Government Fails to Control Liquor Eventually, Prohibition’s fate was sealed by the government, which failed to budget enough money to enforce the law. The task of enforcing Prohibition fell to 1,500 poorly paid federal agents --- clearly an impossible task Federal agents pour wine down a sewer

Support Declined, Prohibition Repealed:

Support Declined, Prohibition Repealed By the mid-1920s, only 19% of Americans supported Prohibition. Many felt Prohibition caused more problems than it solved. The 21 st Amendment finally repealed Prohibition in 1933.

Science and Religion Clashed:

Science and Religion Clashed Another battleground during the 1920s was between fundamentalist religious groups and secular thinkers over the truths of science . The Protestant movement grounded in the literal interpretation of the bible is known as fundamentalism. Fundamentalists found all truth in the bible – including science & evolution.


Evolution In March 1925, Tennessee passed the nation’s first law that made it a crime to teach evolution. The ACLU promised to defend any teacher willing to challenge the law and John Scopes accepted the challenge. Scopes was a biology teacher who dared to teach his students that man derived from lower species.

Darrow vs. Bryan:

Darrow vs. Bryan The ACLU hired Clarence Darrow , the most famous trial lawyer of the era, to defend Scopes. The prosecution countered with William Jennings Bryan , the three-time Democratic presidential nominee. Darrow Bryan

The Scopes Trial:

The Scopes Trial The trial opened on July 10,1925 , and became a national sensation. In an unusual move, Darrow called Bryan to the stand as an expert on the bible – key question: Should the bible be interpreted literally? Under intense questioning, Darrow got Bryan to admit that the bible can be interpreted in different ways. Nevertheless, Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.

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Despite the guilty verdict, Darrow got the upper hand during his questioning of Bryan.

The Twenties Woman:

The Twenties Woman After the tumult of World War I, Americans were looking for a little fun in the 1920s. Women were becoming more independent and achieving greater freedoms (the right to vote, greater employment, and the freedom of the auto) Chicago 1926

The Flapper:

The Flapper During the 1920s, a new ideal emerged for some women: the Flapper . A Flapper was an emancipated young woman who embraced the new fashions and urban attitudes.

New Roles for Women:

New Roles for Women The fast-changing world of the 1920s produced new roles for women. Many women entered the workplace as nurses, teachers, librarians, & secretaries. However, women earned less than men and were kept out of many traditional male jobs (e.g., management) and faced discrimination. Early 20 th Century teachers

The Changing Family:

The Changing Family American birthrates declined for several decades before the 1920s. During the 1920s that trend increased as birth control information became widely available. Birth control clinics opened and the American Birth Control League was founded in 1921. Margaret Sanger and other founders of the American Birth Control League - 1921

The Modern Family:

The Modern Family As the 1920s unfolded, many features of the modern family emerged . Marriage was based on romantic love , middle class women managed the household and finances, and children were not considered wage earners but young people who needed nurturing and education.

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Urban and Rural Families

Expanding News Coverage:

Expanding News Coverage As literacy increased, newspaper circulation increased and mass-circulation magazines flourished. By the end of the 1920s, ten American magazines (including Reader’s Digest and Time) b oasted circulations of over two million.

Radio Comes Of Age:

Radio Comes Of Age Radio was even more popular that newspapers and magazines. News was delivered faster and to a larger audience via radio and Americans could hear the voice of the President or listen to the World Series live.

American Heroes:

American Heroes In 1929, Americans spent $4.5 billion on entertainment (including sports). People crowded into baseball games to see their heroes. Babe Ruth was a larger than life American hero who played for Yankees. He hit 60 homers in 1927.

Lindbergh’s Flight:

Lindbergh’s Flight America’s most beloved hero of the 1920s wasn’t an athlete but a small-town pilot named Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh made the first nonstop solo trans-Atlantic flight. He took off from NYC in the Spirit of St. Louis and arrived in Paris 33 hours later to a hero’s welcome .


Entertainment Even before sound, movies offered a means of escape through romance and comedy. The first sound movie was the Jazz Singer (1927) and the first animation with sound was Steamboat Willie (1928) . By 1930, millions of Americans went to the movies every week. Walt Disney's animated Steamboat Willie marked the debut of Mickey Mouse. It was a seven minute long black and white cartoon.

Music and Art:

Music and Art Famed composer George Gershwin merged traditional elements with American jazz. Painters like Edward Hopper depicted the loneliness of American life. Georgia O’ Keeffe captured the grandeur of New York using intensely colored canvases. Gershwin Hopper’s famous Nighthawks Georgia O'Keeffe


Literature The 1920s was one of the greatest literary eras in American history. Sinclair Lewis , the first American to win the Nobel Prize in literature , wrote the novel Babbitt in which the main character ridicules American conformity and materialism

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Writer F. Scott Fitzgerald coined the phrase “Jazz Age” to describe the 1920s . Fitzgerald wrote Paradise Lost and The Great Gatsby , which reflected the emptiness of New York elite society.

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Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence dramatized the clash between traditional and modern values. Willa Cather celebrated the simple, dignified lives of immigrant farmers in Nebraska in My Antonia.

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Ernest Hemingway, who was wounded in World War I, became one of the best-known authors of the era. His novels The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms criticized the glorification of war. His simple, straightforward style of writing set the literary standard of the day. Hemingway - 1929

The Lost Generation:

The Lost Generation Some writers (e.g., Hemingway and John Dos Passos ) were so disillusioned by American culture that they chose to settle in Europe. In Paris they formed a group that one writer called “The Lost Generation.” John Dos Passos’ self – portrait. He was a good amateur painter.

The Harlem Renaissance:

The Harlem Renaissance Between 1910 and 1920, the Great Migration saw hundreds of thousands of African Americans move north to big cities. By 1920, over 5 million of the nation’s 12 million blacks (over 40%) lived in cities.

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Migration of the Negro by Jacob Lawrence

African American Goals:

African American Goals Founded in 1909, the NAACP urged African Americans to protest racial violence W.E.B Dubois, a founding member, led a march of 10,000 black men in NY to protest violence.

Marcus Garvey:

Marcus Garvey Marcus Garvey believed that African Americans should build a separate society in Africa. In 1914, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA ) and attracted a million members by the mid-1920s. He left a powerful legacy of black pride, economic independence, and Pan- Africanism . If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence, you have won even before you have started. – M. Garvey

Harlem, New York:

Harlem, New York Harlem, NY became the largest black urban communit y . Harlem suffered from overcrowding, unemployment and poverty. However, in the 1920s, it was home to a literary and artistic revival known as the Harlem Renaissance.

African American Writers:

African American Writers The Harlem Renaissance included a literary movement led by well-educated blacks with a new sense of pride in the African-American experience. Claude McKay’s works expressed the pain and frustration of life in the ghetto.

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Missouri-born Langston Hughes was the movement’s best known poet. Many of his poems described the difficult lives of working-class blacks. Some of his poems were put to music, especially jazz and blues.

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Zora Neale Hurston wrote novels, short stories, and poems. She often wrote about the lives of poor, unschooled, southern blacks. She focused on the culture of the people – their folk-ways and values.

African-American Performers:

African-American Performers During the 1920s, black performers had large followings. Paul Robeson , son of a slave, became a major dramatic actor. His performance in Othello was widely praised.

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Jazz was born in the early 20 th century. In 1922, a young trumpet player named Louis Armstrong joined the Creole Jazz Band. Later he joined Fletcher Henderson’s band in NYC. Armstrong is considered the most important and influential musician in the history of jazz .

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In the late 1920s, Duke Ellington , a jazz pianist and composer , led his ten-piece orchestra at the famous Cotton Club. Ellington won renown as one of America’s greatest composers.

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Bessie Smith, blues singer, was perhaps the most outstanding vocalist of the decade. She achieved enormous popularity and by 1927, she became the highest- paid black artist in the world. /

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