During the 1920’s America underwent massive social restructuring as her wealth doubled creating a vast middle class. At the same time country folk became outnumbered by city folk reshaping American dreams.
With money came telephones and radio and the birth of a mass society. People from coast to coast listened to the same sales pitches for their newfound riches. It was not long until the 20’s began to roar. Young women bobbed their hair and shook of the chains of moral rectitude ushering in the flapper era. Flappers wore short skirts, imbibed in the Devil’s brew and smoked in public. Preachers railed against their immorality and branded them as “loose women.” The persona of a flapper was immortalized by the iconic cartoon character Betty Boop.
With the passage of the 19th amendment to our Constitution, women gained the right to vote in 1920. My grandma thus was allowed to vote for the first time in her life at 31 years of age.
Besides being flush with spendable income, other factors conspired to loosen women’s yokes. The advent of labor-saving devices that ran off electricity, like refrigerators, washing machines and ranges, freed women from much drudgery. Men lost the power to “keep ’em barefoot and pregnant” with modern more readily available birth control. Smaller families meant women had more time for pleasure and more money to spend on it.
Henry Ford helped free women by making and selling affordable automobiles. In 1924 a new Model T cost only $260 dollars. Cars made it possible for women to go where the action was. Young women in big cities went “clubbing” to places like the Savoy in New York where they danced the Charleston, the cake walk, the black bottom and the flea hop among others. As you can see our grandmas just wanted to have fun.
The roaring twenties were an exciting time to be alive. Al Capone, prohibition, speakeasies, jazz, flappers, the Klan and the Red Scare, mass migrations of Southern folk of color, these all forever changed America.
Sadly the bubble burst, ushering in the Great Depression with the market crash in 1929. For a decade America was young, wild and free. Women were discovering they were more than baby-making machines and joined in on the extravagant national celebration of affluence. It was a time like no other, a time we need, again.
Art by Erin Alise Conley