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1920s: The Jazz Age

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            “The parties were bigger. The pace
was faster, the shows were broader, the buildings were higher, the morals were
looser, and the liquor was cheaper.” (Bookrags) This
quote is from the Great Gatsby. This
quote boldly summarizes the 1920s. The 20’s were a time in history that no one had
seen yet. People tested their morals and even the law. Women wore more vibrant
and as they would say in the 20’s more scandalous clothing than in the years
prior. The 20’s were time when so much was going on. Many big events shaped
this time. Prohibition and women gaining the right to vote all lead to the
bright and vibrant 20’s that we think of.

One of the main events that shaped the 1920’s was the
Prohibition. On January 19th, 1919 the 18th amendment was
ratified. (“18th
and 21st Amendments”, 2010)This amendment banned the manufacture, transportation, and
sale of intoxicating liquor. (“Prohibition”,2009)
Before the 18th Amendment was ratified, the movement to ban
alcoholic drinks had already begun about eighty to a hundred years before. This
movement began in the 1846 when states (starting with Maine) began to pass
prohibition laws. (“Prohibition”,2009) Many people and historians thought
that the Prohibition movement started with the Evangelical Protestants but it
actually started with upper class women. These women saw alcohol as destructive
in families and marriages and thought the ban of it would help end those
problems. (Schweikart and
Allen, 2014) The
combination of women against alcohol, people seeing saloon culture as corrupt
and urban growth, all lead to the 18th Amendment being ratified. (“Prohibition”,2009.) The IRS (Internal Revenue Service)
was the first group to enforce Prohibition. Later this responsibility was given
to the Justice Department (“Prohibition”,2009.)
Enforcing Prohibition was very difficult; in fact it was almost impossible
especially in large cities. The strongest enforcement took place in rural
communities and small towns (“Prohibition”,2009.)

After the initial passing of the Amendment it seemed like
there was some success with less public drunkenness arrests and a 30% drop in
alcohol consumption. (“Prohibition”,2009) But the Prohibition era encouraged
the rise of criminal activity. (“Prohibition”,2009)
The illegal manufacturing and sale of liquor (called bootlegging) and
speakeasies (which were illegal liquor stores and night clubs) grew substantially.
(“Prohibition”,2009) With the rise of illegal liquor
operations came more gangs and gangsters. One of the most well known was Al
Capone. (“Prohibition”,2009) Capone earned $60 million annually
from bootlegging and speakeasies that he owned. (“Prohibition”,2009)  Him and his gang
were also responsible for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, killing many
people. (“Prohibition”,2009)

“Support for the Prohibition was fading by the end of the
1920s early 30s with the criminal activity and violence associated with it. The
idea that jobs and revenue could be created by legalizing liquor had an
undeniable appeal especially since the Great Depression had begun. It was on
the platform of Prohibition appeal that Franklin Delanore Roosevelt ran for
President.” (“Prohibition”,2009) 
He easily won the Presidency and in 1933 Prohibition had ended and the
21st Amendment had been ratified. (“Prohibition”,2009)


Another important historical event that took place during the
1920s was Woman’s Suffrage. Before the ratification of the 19th
Amendment, the fight for Women’s equal rights and voting rights had begun
roughly eighty years prior. The idea of Woman gaining voting rights gained
prominence with the first women’s rights convention in the entire world. This
took place at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. (“Women’s Suffrage Movement”) During the year 1869 a rift formed in
the suffrage movement. Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed one of
the groups, called the National Suffrage Association (NSA). (“Women’s Suffrage Movement”) This group was slightly more radical
than the other group that formed. The NSA was focused on universal suffrage in
the USA, changes in divorce laws, and an end to employment and pay
discrimination. (“Women’s
Suffrage Movement”) Lucy
Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Josephine Ruffin formed a less radical group called
the American Women’s Suffrage Association (AWSA). (“Women’s Suffrage Movement”) This group sought suffrage for black
men and winning women’s right to vote ignoring the broader rights the NSA
focused on. (“Women’s
Suffrage Movement”) Later
however, these two groups realized they could get more done if they combined
and formed one group. So in 1890 the two groups merged together and formed the
National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA). (“Women’s Suffrage Movement”) This new group recruited celebrities
to their cause and held multiple parades and rallies to get the need for
women’s suffrage out. (“Women’s
Suffrage Movement”) Two
ladies named Alice Paul and Lucy Stone both decided that they were not happy
with the NAWSA for many reason, so they left the organization in 1914 and
formed their own group called the Congressional Union. (“Women’s Suffrage Movement”) This group used tactics such as
putting pressure on the Democratic Party which controlled the house and White
House to achieve women’s suffrage. (“Women’s Suffrage Movement”) This group renamed itself in 1916 to the National
Women’s Party (NWP.) This group continued to get the word out about suffrage.
There was more campaigning, picketing and holding demonstrations in front of
the White House. (“Women’s
Suffrage Movement”) The
NWP was also one of the women’s groups that were furious at the government for
“supporting democracy abroad (during WW1) while denying the women the right to
vote at home.” (“Women’s
Suffrage Movement”)
Later however the NWP became to “unladylike” and “had too much bad publicity
associated with it.” (“Women’s
Suffrage Movement”) One
example of the NWP’s behavior was on June 1917, NWP members were arrested on
the technical charge of obstructing traffic.” (“Women’s Suffrage Movement”)Many women did not like the NWP’s
tactics of gaining women’s suffrage. One of these women was Carrie Chapman
Catt. Catt was the President of the NAWSA from 1900-1904 and again in
1915-1920. (“Women’s
Suffrage Movement”)She
and many other women distanced themselves from the NAWSA and NWP. Catt was
really the woman who led the final push to gain a constitutional Amendment. (“Women’s Suffrage Movement”) She even set up a public bureau in
Washington DC.

The last battleground state to that Suffrage took place in
was Tennessee. (“Women’s
Suffrage Movement”) To
the culture of the south, feminism was extremely counter-cultural. This is why
the 19th Amendment took longer to ratify in the South than in the
North. (“Women’s Suffrage
Movement”) But finally
Tennessee ratified the Amendment, being the final state needed to make the
Amendment official. (“Women’s
Suffrage Movement”) And
in the end, the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 26th,
1920 by only a margin of a vote. (“Women’s Suffrage Movement”)

Lastly this paper will discuss the fashion of the 20’s. The
fashion of the 1920s was bold and vastly different from the decades before. The
1920s were the Jazz Age, the Age of the Flappers. 20s fashion was directly
related to all that was going on during that decade. The ratification of the 18th
amendment which outlawed alcohol, speakeasies, and the ratification of the 19th
amendment where women were granted the right to vote all affected the style of
the 20s. Flapper girls are the main thing one thinks of when thinking of the
20s. These girls dressed in “flapper dresses that were loss fitting, short
hemmed which sometimes went to the knees, and were covered in gems and fringe.”
(Herald,pp.28-29) “They cut their hair short and in
fact some say that “99% of American women had short bob-cut hair.”(Herald, pg.29) The style of the flappers contrasts
the corset and long dresses of the centuries before. This style was born out of
women’s suffrage and women gaining the right to vote. With this came new found
freedom. Women felt more free to wear what they wanted. “A woman in the 1920s
drank, voted, danced, and played sports. She took risks, which starkly contrasted
the decades before.” (Rosenburg,
“Flappers in the Roaring Twenties”) “Another style that started in the 1920s was called
“Tutmania”. After the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt the fashion
industry was sent into a frenzy. Egyptian motifs entered the market place.
Egyptian green was a popular color and dress silks were on the rise. Cheap
knock offs of “Cleo” earrings were a favorite piece of jewelry.” (Herald, pg 44) “One other piece of clothing that
was very popular among young college students was called “Oxford bags.” These
were wide-legged trousers that both men and women were fond of.” (Herald, pg 34) The bold styles and fashions of the
1920s are a fascinating reminder of how events going on in the world directly impact

The 20’s were a time of testing the limits and taking risks.
Women took a risk and gained the right to vote. Limits were tested during the
Prohibition as people would see how much they could get away with. The fashion
industry took risks with clothing nobody had ever seen in the centuries before.
All in all the 20’s were a time of big change in America. Even though the
fantastical 20’s ended with the rude awakening of the Great Crash and Great
Depression, it will still be remembered as one of the most vibrant decades in
American history.


Rosenberg, Jennifer. “Flappers in the Roaring
Twenties.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 3, 2017, Staff.
“Prohibition.”, A Television Networks, 2009,

Herald, Jacueline. Fashions
of the Decade the 1920s. Facts on File, 1991 Staff, Staff.
“Prohibition.”, A Television Networks, 2009, Staff.
“18th and 21st Amendments.”, A Television
Networks, 2010,

Schweikart, Larry, and Michael Allen. A patriots history of the United States: from Columbuss Great Discovery to
the war on terror. Sentinel, 2014.

“Women’s Suffrage
Movement.” HistoryNet,

Francis Scott, and Dagmar Pohlenz. The Great Gatsby. Scho?ningh,

“Roaring 20s Research Article from The Way People Live.” BookRags,


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