The 1920s is sometimes called the
“Roaring Twenties” because of the
rapid changes in lifestyle it brought
to many Americans.
Young women of
the 1920s called
smoked, drank,
bobbed their hair,
and danced the
Charleston. Why
did they break
loose in the 20s?
They had the right
to vote.
Some people,
though, call this
decade the “Gilded
Age” because it
looked prosperous
and rich on the
outside, but
poverty and misery
lay beneath the
flashy surface for
many Americans.
New farm machinery enabled farmers to grow more
crops than ever before in history. The massive
amount of food they produced, though, drove down
prices. Also, European farm production was rising
now that WWI was over, and demand for US crops
declined, leaving farmers with bills to pay, and little
income to pay them with.
Also, many industries weren’t very prosperous.
These included iron, railroads, textiles, and mining.
The gap between rich and poor widened, with
business owners and managers becoming wealthy,
and workers barely surviving.
These are common oil
Here is John D Rockefeller, the owner of Standard
The 1920s saw the beginnings of consumerism: a
massive outbreak of people buying consumer goods.
Why the 1920s? There were new inventions every day,
and new gadgets for sale to make life easier.
And, with new forms of media, such as movies and
radio, it was far easier to advertise these new products
and convince people they needed them.
But most retailers still advertised in newspapers and
And just like the ad said, if you couldn’t afford to buy it with cash,
buy it on credit, or the installment plan. The good side: this plan let
less wealthy folks afford nice stuff. The bad side: many people
bankrupted themselves buying crap they didn’t really need. Listen
to this conversation overheard on a train in the 20s:
“Do you have an automobile yet?”
“No, I talked it over with John and he felt we could not afford one.”
“Mr. Budge, who lives in your town, has one, and they are not as well off as you.”
“Yes, I know. Their second payment came due, and they had no money to pay it.”
“What did they do? Lose the car?”
“No, they got the money and paid the payment.”
“How did they get the money?”
“They sold the cook stove.”
“How could they get along without a cook stove?”
“They didn’t. They bought another one on the installment plan.”
Dance Marathons: The longest
one lasted for 22 weeks, 3 ½ days!
The most
sitter was
who once
stayed atop
a pole for 7
This is Shipwreck, above
“Oxford Bags:” the pants, not the girls.
In the 1920s, hundreds of
thousands of young
African-Americans moved
north in what is called the
Great Migration, in search
of jobs. They often found
acceptance difficult, even in
the North, and occasionally,
race riots broke out.
WEB Du Bois founded the
National Association for the
Advancement of Colored
People, and led a march of
10,000 men in New York.
Du Bois wanted immediate equality for African
Americans. He thought that they would only receive
equality by demanding it, and fighting for it if necessary.
Booker T Washington was an African
American leader with a different view.
He thought that blacks should work
hard, be patient, and become
productive members of society,
without angry protests. He thought
that kind of stuff just made white
America more angry, and lessened the
chances of equality. He said that if
African Americans became made the
best products, White people would buy
them, whether made by an African
American or not. And over time, no
one would even care about color.
Still , where tensions flared, lynchings continued.
African-American leader Marcus Garvey founded the
Universal Negro Improvement Association, and
encouraged African-Americans to return to Africa
and build a new, separate society. His movement
dwindled when he was jailed for mail fraud.
So, DuBois wanted immediate
equality for African Americans, right
Washington wanted slow, gradual
equality through patience.
Garvey didn’t want equality at all in
America. He wanted blacks to go
back to Africa.
Like many urban neighborhoods, Harlem in NYC
suffered from overcrowding, unemployment, and poverty.
But in the 1920s, its problems were eclipsed by the
outbreak of an African-American literary and artistic
movement called the Harlem Renaissance.
Above all, the Harlem Renaissance was a movement led
by well-educated, middle-class African Americans who
expressed new pride in the black experience in America.
Poets, novelists, painters, and musicians found inspiration
in their surroundings, and in the lifestyles of their
Jean Toomer’s book of
poems and sketches
entitled Cane was the
among the first full
length publications of
the Harlem
Up from the skeleton stone walls, up from the rotting floor boards and
the solid hand-hewn beams of oak of the prewar cotton factory, dusk
came. Up from the dusk the full moon came. Glowing like a fired pineknot, it illumined the great door and soft showered the Negro shanties
aligned along the single street of factory town. The full moon in the great
door was an omen. Negro women improvised songs against its spell.
Hughes was the
best-known poet.
Here is an
excerpt from his
poem Negro
Speaks of Rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human
blood in human viens.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euprates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the signing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to
New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Trumpet player Louis Armstrong,
called “Satchmo,” became one of
the most influential jazz
musicians in history.
Aaron Douglas
was one of the
most influential
painters of the
The bright colors
and somber
tones of Jacob
Some white American authors, disillusioned by the materialism
of the US, moved to Paris and continued to write. They were
called the "Lost Generation," and they included Ernest
Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and John
He drove his old car into a town. He scoured the farms for work. Where can we sleep
the night?
Well, there’s a Hooverville on the edge of the river. There’s a whole raft of Okies there.
He drove his old car to Hooverville. He never asked again, for there was a Hooverville
on the edge of every town.
The rag town lay close to water; and the houses were tents, and weed-thatched
enclosures, paper houses, a great junk pile. The man drove his family in and became a
citizen of Hooverville--always they were called Hooverville. The man put up his own
tent as near to water as he could get; or if he had no tent, he went to the city dump and
brought back cartons and built a house of corrugated paper. And when the rains came
the house melted and washed away. He settled in Hooverville and he scoured the
countryside for work, and the little money he had went for gasoline to look for work. In
the evening the men gathered and talked of the land they had seen.
There’s thirty thousan’ acres, out west of here. Layin’ there. Jesus, what I could do
with that, with five acres of that! Why, hell, I’d have ever’thing to eat.
Notice one thing? They ain’t no vegetables not chickens not pigs at the farms. They
raise one thing--cotton, say, or peaches, or lettuce. ‘Nother place’ll be all
chickens. They buy the stuff they could raise in the dooryard.
Jesus, what I could do with a couple pigs!
Well, it ain’t yourn, an’ it ain’t gonna be yourn.
What we gonna do? The kids can’t grow up this way.
-From Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath
Anne Dallas Dudley was a prominent activist in the women’s suffrage movement. After
founding the Nashville Equal Suffrage League and serving as its president, she moved up through
the ranks of the movement, serving as President of the and then as Third Vice President of the
National American Women Suffrage Association, where she helped lead efforts to get the 19th
Amendment ratified. She is especially noted for her successful efforts to get the Nineteenth
Amendment ratified in her home state of Tennessee, the final state necessary to bring the
amendment into force.
Harry Burn was a state Senator from Niota. In 1920, the 19th
Amendment giving women the right to vote was being debated by
the states. If one more state voted in favor of the amendment,
Women would get to vote. When Tennessee was voting on whether
to allow women the right to vote, he voted “NO” two times. The
vote was deadlocked, and could not pass.
The third time, he changed his
vote to “YES” and suddenly
women had the right to vote in
America, because of Harry Burn
and the state of Tennessee. Why
did he change his vote?
Because between the 2nd and
3rd ballots, he got a letter
from his mom telling him to!
Since Tennessee
was the 36th state
to ratify the 19th
Amendment, and
the last one
needed to make it
a law, those states
were called the
“Perfect 36.”
Tennessee Governor Albert Roberts officially
signed the Amendment into effect.
Jane Addams founded Hull House, one of America’s first
settlement houses. Here, city dwellers could take classes in English,
health, and painting, and even some college credit courses. Nurses from
settlement houses visited the sick, and aid was given to deserted women,
widows, injured workers, and their families. By 1910, there were 400
settlement houses in the US. Addams was a co-winner of the Nobel
Peace Prize in 1931.