American culture and society in the 1920s were marked by a wave of new lifestyles and ideas. While the movie industry produced new celebrities and jazz music became popular, literature flourished and flappers defined a social trend. Amidst the speakeasies, jazz, and jitterbugs, Americans began to stray from traditional values as the culture changed.
Prosperity: This is a term that refers to the economic stability and opportunity experienced during the 1920s. The inventions of new consumer goods and home electrical products contributed to this prosperity. The economy during this time was stimulated by the new and booming electrical industry. A growth oriented business climate of the time was expansionist regarding American capitalism. This boom also was started with the invention of the affordable automobile.
KDKA, Pittsburgh: This was the first successful radio station in the U.S. to start broadcasting on Nov 2, 1920. It began the radio era when KDKA, based in Pittsburgh, broadcast the news of President Harding’s election. This radio station also influenced the establishment of the Federal Radio Commission.
Federal Radio Commission, 1927: The FRC was created by Congress and extended the principle of governmental regulation of business activity to the new radio industry. This can be seen as an example of the progressive spirit that still survived in the legislative branch and its effect on society.
Women’s Christian Temperance Movement: Formed in 1874, the Women’s Christian Temperance movement grew in momentum during the progressive era. This occurred because the war with Germany fermented wider support for the movement. By 1917 it successfully established prohibition in 19 states.
Anti-Saloon League: Another organization formed during the progressive era, the Anti-Saloon league was spurred by the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement in 1893. Progressives encouraged the legal abolition of alcohol. The result of the efforts of the ASL was the 18th amendment passed in 1918.
National Women’s Party, Alice Paul: During the twenties, feminist Alice Paul’s National Women’s Party lobbied for an equal-rights amendment to the Constitution. Other feminists, radicals, and labor activists condemned Paul’s stance on this issue. Unfortunately, the proposed amendment never succeeded through the party.
Garvey, Marcus, Universal Negro Improvement Association: Garvey was a black nationalist leader who created the "Back to Africa" movement in the U.S. In 1907, he led a printers’ strike for higher wages at a printing company in Kingston. In 1914 he founded the UNIA and in 1916, he started a weekly newspaper called the Negro World.
Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes: Hughes was an American writer known for the use of jazz and black folk rhythms in his poetry. He used musical rhythms and the traditions of African American culture in his poetry. In the 1920s he was a prominent figure during the Harlem Renaissance and was the Poet Laureate of Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance refers to the black cultural development during the 1920s. However, the movement depended on the patronage of white people.
de Mille, Cecil B.: He was an American motion picture director and producer who in 1913 joined with Jesse Lasky and Samuel Goldwyn to form the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. De Mille produced and directed the first feature film made in Hollywood called The Squaw Man in 1914.
Valentino, Rudolph, Chaplin, Charlie: Valentino was an actor who was idolized by female fans of the 1920s. His first silent film was The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) but his peak was with The Sheik (1921). Charlie Chaplin was a silent film actor who appeared in 1914 with the Keystone Film Company.
Ford, Henry, the Model T, Sloan, Alfred P.: In 1893, Ford completed the construction of his first automobile and in 1903 he founded the Ford Motor Company. In 1908 he started production of the Model-T. In 1913 Ford began using standardized interchangeable parts and assembly-lines in his plants.
Johnson, James Weldon: American author, lawyer, and diplomat who reflected his deep consideration of black life in the United States, James Weldon Johnson served as field secretary of the NAACP from 1916-1920. In 1920 he became the NAACP’s first black executive secretary.
Ruth, Babe, Dempsey, Jack: Babe Ruth was the most popular player in the history of baseball. He began in 1914 on the Baltimore team of the International League. Jack Dempsey was an American professional boxer who became world heavyweight champion in 1919 but lost the title in 1926.
Lindbergh, Charles, Spirit of St. Louis: Lindbergh was an American aviator, engineer , and Pulitzer Prize winner. On May 20, 1927, he was the first person to make a nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic. Flying in his single engine plane, Spirit of St. Louis, he flew from New York City to Paris.
The Jazz Singer: The Jazz Singer was a movie, made in 1927, that started a demand for dancers who could fulfill the expectations of the 1920s. Fred Astaire was involved with the choreography in the movie along with other famous dancers such as Berkeley, Balanchine, and De Mille.
the Jazz Age: The Jazz Age is the general label of what the twenties represented. Such a title reflects the revolution in music during the time, when jazz music became popular and in style. This name also refers to the general prosperity and liberation of the people during the time; those were the "good times."
Freud’s, Sigmund theories: Freud was a Viennese physician whose studies of human sexuality and human psychology first appeared in the 1890s. However, his ideas became popular during the 1920s. His lectures in 1909 at Clark University advanced psychoanalysis in the United States.
Barton, Bruce, The Man Nobody Knows 1925: Barton was an advertising executive that described Jesus Christ as a managerial genius who "picked up twelve men from the bottom ranks of business and forged them into an organization that conquered the world." By this he referred to the public’s admiration of leaders like President Harding.
"the Lost Generation": This term refers to a group of American writers who lived primarily in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s. Bitter about their World War I experiences and disillusioned with different aspects of American society, these writers were seen to be ex-patriots. The writers include: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Carlos Williams. They never formed a formal literary movement, but individually they were all influential writers.
Lewis, Sinclair, Main Street, Babbitt: Main Street was written in 1920 and is where Lewis first developed the theme of the monotony, emotional frustration, and lack of values in American middle-class life. Babbitt, written in 1922, comments on how people conform blindly to the standards of their environment.
Mencken, H.L., editor of the magazine, The American Mercury: Mencken founded the magazine The American Mercury in 1924. Mencken remained the editor until 1933. He targeted his work at the shortcomings of democracy and the middle-class American culture.
Eliot, T.S., The Waste Land: Eliot won the Nobel Prize for literature for his poem The Waste Land. This poem that is one of the most widely discussed literary works. Written in 1922, The Waste Land expresses Eliot’s conception of the contrast between modern society and societies of the past.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott, The Great Gatsby: Fitzgerald wrote this book in five months and completed it in 1925. The plot was a sensitive and satiric story of the pursuit of success and the collapse of the American dream. Being one of the writers of the Lost Generation, Fitzgerald was bitter because of the effects of the war.
Dreiser, Theodore, An American Tragedy: In 1925, An American Tragedy had great success. Dreiser believed in representing life honestly in his fiction and accomplished this through accurate detail and descriptions of the urban settings of his stories. He also portrays his characters as victims of social and economic forces.
Hemingway, Ernest, A Farewell to Arms: In Hemingway’s novels, he usually depicted the lives of two types of people: men and women deprived of faith in their values by World War I, and men of simple character and primitive emotions. This was Hemingway’s second most important novel next to The Sun Also Rises (1926).
New woman: During the 1920s changes in postwar behavior had a liberating effect on women. Women of the twenties were noticed more for their sex appeal and presented as thus in the advertising industry. The burden of domestic chores were alleviated with new technology, while women themselves turned to a more liberated attitude.
Flappers: Called a flapper because they would leave their boot flaps open, the flapper was the stereotype of a woman in the 1920s. Independent and representing the rebellious youth of the age, the flapper was usually characterized by her "bobbed" hair, dangling cigarette, heavy make-up, and her ever shortening skirt length.