17 - The 1920s.doc

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30 Mar 2012
(Feb 8)
Republicans in government this decade; laissez faire; “return to normalcy”
Business predominant aspect of society
Social and cultural change; roaring twenties
I. Economic Boom
- The economy grows although it is not an even distribution; agriculture lags behind
- The nation’s net income leapt to 87 billion by the end of the decade
- Unemployment is quite low; about 1.8% in 1926
- Housing industry
- Automobile industry
- Mass Consumption & the Growth of Advertising
Per capita income of the white middle class increased by a third; cost of living stayed
relatively same; meant more disposable income
Mass production of a broad new range of products
Radio, refrigerators, various home appliances
The growth of modern advertising stimulates the desire for new product
It removed certain values from American society; notions of thrift/saving
Advertisers saw themselves as “missionaries of modernity”
Post-war advertising isn’t about the product itself but about what it can do for you
The idea is to link the possession of a material good to the fulfillment of an imagined
spiritual need; this is a successful method
The credit/payments plans fuels consumer revolution; everyone can participate
Through consumption you will be carrying forth America’s future
II. Modern (Mass) Culture
- Movies
Rapidly becomes a big business of its own; silent films
Movie attendance doubles by the end of the decade
The advent of sound in 1927
“The Jazz Singer”; first movie with sound
- Jazz
The creation of African Americans
New Orleans/The Great Migration/Harlem/Chicago/Harlem
Jazz halls competed with Broadway shows
Backlash initially; black heritage; inferior and lacks sophistication
In particular draws in the youth; representative of the new life
- The Radio
Phonograph; birth of the recording music industry
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It was a forum for sermons; soap operas;
By 1923 there were more than 500 radio stations
Stands as America’s cultural icon
Manufacturers were turning out more than 2 million radios a year
Creates a mass culture that people of different walks of life are participating in
III. Changing Social Values
- A Sexual Revolution?
People’s attitudes towards sex were changing
Open discussions in a different way; satisfaction rather than reproduction
Popular amusements e.g. movies, explored sexual topics
Most people still condemned pre marital sex
“Petting”; sexual expression moves beyond the confines of marriage
- Dating
Emerges in response to this modern culture; encourages sexual experimentation
Without parental supervision; the car revolutionized dating
Demonstrates the growth of a youth culture
Represents a different set of norms than what had existed prior to this point
Middletown study; there are social developments and changing attitudes in small towns
just like in the big cities
Changing gender norms follow
Women are becoming more sexual beings; objects of desire; more independent;
assertive; educated; career oriented
IV. The New Woman
There are different expressions of the new woman
- Socially (Flappers)
Shortening their hemlines; cutting hair short; flashier clothing; makeup
Up until this period the only people who wore makeup were prostitutes
She consumes alcohol; period of prohibition; breaks laws
She listened to jazz music; went to dancehalls; unchaperoned rides
- Economically
More middle class women are working for pay ¼
Still confined to “female jobs”; teachers; clerks; assistants
It gives them more economic freedom; consumers with desires and needs
Single women become targets of the vast advertisements
Married women still did the majority of the shopping even if it was the husband’s
income that was being spent
- Politically
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19th Amendment; for the vast majority it was but the beginning of a much large struggle
within American society
- The National Women’s Party and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
ERA: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United
States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.”
Alice Paul; active in the suffrage movement; radical type
Many women shy away from the ERA
Some thought it was beneficial to have distinct laws for the genders
What does equal actually entail?
Tamer Versions of Feminism
- Dorothy Bromely’s “Feminism New Style”
Complains that the new radical vision was all people focused on
Social values are still shifting generally but in particular in regards to
women’s role in society; employment desires; behaviors adopted prior
to marriage and once married
Dorothy Bromely, Feminism New Style: “‘Feminism’ has become a term of opprobrium to
the modern young woman. For the word suggests either the old school of fighting feminists
who wore flat heels and had very little feminine charm, or the current species who antagonize
men with their constant clamor about maiden names, equal rights, woman's place in the world,
and many another causes…ad infinitum. Indeed, if a blundering male assumes that a young
woman is a feminist simply because she happens to have a job or a profession of her own, she
will be highly—and quite justifiably—insulted: for the word evokes the antithesis of what she
flatters herself to be. Yet she and her kind can hardly be dubbed "old-fashioned" women. What
are they, then? … [They are] convinced that they will be better wives and mothers for the
breadth they gain from functioning outside the home. In short, they are highly conscious
creatures who feel obliged to plumb their own resources to the very depths, despite the fact that
they are under no delusions as to the present inferior status of their sex in most fields of
V. The New Negro
- The term seems to have been introduced in 1919; Stanley Norvell
- The Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes poetry follows at end)
This is an artistic movement; novelists; poets; musicians end up making Harlem their
home; critical mass from the larger artistic community
In many ways it popularized the term “New Negro”
Allen Locke considered the Harlem Renaissance a “spiritual coming of age”
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