The Social Structure of the 1920s
The Roots of the 1920’s Social Life The Great War was very essential in providing the stepping stones into life during the 1920s as well as maintaining effects on the social atmosphere. In late 1918, the Great War had come to an end with the Allies achieving victory. This war had supposedly been the war to end all wars, and this victory brought confidence back home to the Americans. American troops came home at the end of 1918, and they came home to an America about to experience some of its most prosperous years.
With this confidence and energy, Americans led themselves into the 1920s with optimism, activity, and economic growth that lasted through the majority of the era. The Roaring Twenties, the Golden Twenties, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Jazz Age: all names given to this famous era. America was rich. Wall Street was successful day after day with the stock market soaring. The 1920s was a time where tradition was tried and young men and women defied the traditionalist views. Along with this young and rowdy generation was the Prohibition era.
The Social Structure of the 1920s Essay Example
Speakeasies across America were born, and bootlegging became a career for many. Americans would not give up their alcohol to any sort of constitutional amendment creating an active and dangerous lifestyle of Americans during the night time. African-Americans made their mark on society during these times. The Harlem Renaissance brought out true African-American art through different visual arts, novels, dramas, short stories, and poetry. Civil rights were still non-existent for the African-Americans, but many still freely expressed themselves. Some expressed themselves through music, especially jazz.
The 1920s brought about the Jazz Age. Big names such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington came to fame during this age of musical expression. America soared during the 1920s; it’s no wonder the era has been called the Roaring/Golden Twenties. Social life during this time was vastly different than any other era in American history. For instance, the daily life of Americans consisted of things that no other era has dealt with. American economy, the generational war, Prohibition, the Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age all served as cornerstones for shaping American society during the 1920s.
With many different aspects going into shaping the social life of the 1920s, the economy was the basis of it all. Domestic life had changed with the simple inventions and the mass production of different household products that are still used today: vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, the hair dryer, and etcetera. The consumer lifestyle was king during this time, and it was these simple household products that were vastly consumed. The strong economy changed family life: more students in school, kids were involved in more organizations, and, of course, no worry to put food on the table.
With the strong economy, the people developed the mentality of living life to its fullest. Edna St. Vincent Millay described the 1920s lifestyle well in her poem “First Fig”: “My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends, it gives a lovely light! ” It was only the wealth of America and its strong economy that Americans were able to “burn the candle at both ends. ” Although the Great War had come to an end, young American men came home to fight another war: a generational war.
A generational difference had been formed between the rough and rowdy young generation and the traditionalist generation. Women during the Great War had tasted a bit of freedom being on their own while all of the men were across the ocean. This led to the birth of flappers during the 1920s: women who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, and rebelled against almost any traditional rules. This new revolution would go on to affect far more than just the decade, it would go on to affect the rest of history following the 20s.
The generational gap did not come about with each individual across America choosing to rebel, it spread rapidly through the media. Newspapers, magazines, and tabloids not only spread the flapper mentality, but also other national trends, ideas, and fashions. One example of media transforming the new generation was Dorothy Dix’s “Advice to Women”, one of many columns in daily newspapers for Dix. In it she wrote, “The old idea used to be that the way for a woman to help her husband was by being thrifty and industrious, by peeling the potatoes a little thinner, and making over her old hats and frocks.
But the woman who makes herself nothing but a domestic drudge . . . is not a help to her husband. She is a hindrance. ” Writings such as this influenced the female crowd across the country to reform the way of life for young women and wives. This kind of writing also brought about an increase in married women considering that they weren’t as dependent upon their husbands anymore. The wife often carried her own job giving the family two jobs which were needed to maintain the consumer mentality during this time. The older generation, the traditionalists, did not agree with this new way of life.
However, with the new generation becoming more independent, whatever the traditionalists had to say didn’t carry much weight. The young adults of the 1920s were their own people which very much affected the social life during this time. Rebellion was not only taking place against the older generation, but also against the American government. The Prohibition Act had made its entrance into the constitution as the Eighteenth Amendment in 1920 abolishing the manufacture, transportation, and sale of liquor, beer, and wine throughout the United States.
Many supported prohibition during its infant years. The big business men such as Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie all supported prohibition convinced that alcohol hindered the work of their employees. Along with these men were the Protestant churches fully supporting the moral values that prohibition was likely to maintain. However, the American people would not give up their alcohol. Prohibition was only able to make alcohol illegal, but it was not able to stop the distribution of alcohol. “Bootlegging” was the official name given to selling alcohol illegally.
This act included those who independently made their own alcohol for themselves, but the major result of prohibition was organized crime being formed around bootlegging. The infamous Al Capone, also known as Scarface, virtually controlled the city of Chicago through his gang of bootlegging. The flow of money was so great that he was able to pay off local police and even federal agents in order to keep his business afloat. Capone even had control over the mayoral elections when his men terrorized polling places, took opposition ballots by gun, and abducted voters and election workers. Capone’s chosen mayor won.
Capone wasn’t the only crime lord around though; rival gangs fought against Capone to gain control of Chicago. These gang wars led to bloodshed and mayhem all throughout Chicago. From 1926 to 1930, more than 300 mobsters were killed in various shootouts and bombings in the Chicago area. Gangs centered on bootlegging were found all across America striking fear into the American people. Capone and those like him had to have a major source of alcohol sales other than individual homes, and they did. Speakeasies exploded in their number during the 1920s which had a major impact on social life.
It was here that alcohol was sold on a large scale. These were essentially bars, but they were illegal and not easy to get into. In a passage from Studs Terkel’s Hard Times, Alec Wilder recalls the New York City establishments he frequented during Prohibition: “As soon as you walked in the door, you were a special person, you belonged to a special society. When I’d bring a person in, it was like dispensing largesse. I was a big man. You had to know somebody who knew somebody. It had that marvelous movie-like quality, unreality. And the food was great.
” This “special person” mentality attracted many young Americans to the speakeasies. The sale of alcohol was accompanied with an upbeat atmosphere. Many locations had live music along with an area for dancing. From the inside, many speakeasies would not appear to be illegal considering how the people were loose and loud and uncaring that what they were doing was illegal. Speakeasies were the night end of the burning candle. The social life described so far has mainly been focused on the white Americans, but the African-American society experienced its own social advancement.
The Harlem Renaissance was birthed in the 1920s, and it was the time when African-American artists of all different branches expanded. Literature, art, and music were used by the African-Americans to challenge the racism and stereotypes that were very prevalent during this time. One of the most memorable writers from this time was Langston Hughes. This African-American man helped in shaping the minds of aspiring African-American writers. Langston Hughes said in his essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”, “An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.
” Hughes urged the African-American writers to never try to write like white people; rather, they should openly express themselves through their art. African-Americans were not equal to the white Americans, but Hughes instilled into the African-American community that they did not want to be like the white Americans; instead, they were to be their own people and express their own hearts. The Harlem Renaissance included the Jazz Age as well. Jazz and blues were one of the primary ways for African-Americans to express themselves. They were even able to perform among whites.
The aforementioned speakeasies were the primary holds for the performances of different jazz and blues artists as mentioned in Jazz: The First Century: “Speakeasies, brothels, nightclubs, movie houses, and dance halls were proliferating – all of them craving musical entertainment. ” The jazz style of music served well at speakeasies creating an upbeat atmosphere that provided well for the upbeat crowd. Among the most famous African-American musicians during this time were Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong. Duke Ellington said, “The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician.
Things like old folks singing in the moonlight in the back yard on a hot night or something said long ago. ” What Ellington said fit perfectly into what Hughes stood for and tried so hard to instill in the African-American society. Jazz focused not on what was current among the white folks, but it focused on the past generations and accomplishments of the African-Americans. The great prosperity and upbeat social life did not last to the end of the 1920s. The economy once again laid the foundation of the social life when the stock market crashed in October of 1929.
By mid-November, the previous unemployment count of 700,000 had risen to 3 million. A crashing economy would drastically change the lifestyle that so many had acquired during the last ten years. The consumer lifestyle was dead. America would be coming off some of its most prosperous years into some of its worst economic years. It would not be until 1941 when America entered into the Second World War that America would re-establish itself as being an economic powerhouse. Though the 1920s ended with such disparity, the era affected American history in such a way that the effects are still prevalent today.
Flappers were the epitome of feminism and brought about the drastic change in women’s role in society. The flappers established women with a sense of independence. The Harlem Renaissance laid the foundations for the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. ; a movement that took place thirty years later. And because of that, equality has not only been established for African-Americans in the United States, but equality has been established for all races in the United States. The Jazz Age revolutionized music in America. The jazz music of the 1920s has lived to the modern day and will most likely never die. The roots of the 1920s social life not only affected society in its current state, but those same roots have grown throughout the past ninety years of America. The 1920s revolutionized life in America.