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In numerous ways, both economically and culturally, the 1920s proved to be America’s modern decade. What were the sources of 1920s prosperity? Did the affluence reach all classes?
The 1920s was characterized by widespread prosperity and saw a huge growth in economy as a result of numerous factors. There was a rapid growth in consumer goods such as automobiles, construction boom, and advancing government growth policies (Joseph, 1946). The United States’ economy transformed into a consolidated and peacetime one, as its society acculturated into consumerism. With the emergence of new technologies, there also came a need for infrastructure, funded by the government. There was widespread electrification program, and enaction of telephone lines, indoor plumbing, and modern sewer systems.
However, with widespread prosperity, there were sectors that were left behind, mining and farming. With failures in these sectors, those working in them were adversely affected. They ended up becoming jobless as farm produce became unsellable. These meant that workers in farms could not enjoy what the rest of the population was doing. It is important to note that, during this time, about half of America’s population lived in the rural areas. Those who were majorly affected were the black community as well as immigrant workers. Immigrant workers worked for little money as they faced discrimination in their working fields.
Mass production in industries such as radio, movie, chemical and automobile skyrocketed (Joseph, 1946). There was a widespread mass production in vehicles in the United States. By 1927, Ford had sold about fifteen million of the Model T cars. Automobile parts became available to the average consumers. The effects brought about by the automobile industry were widespread as it contributed to other industries such as service stations, used car dealership, highway building, motels, as well as new housing units.
What changes took place in the daily lives of the middle classes and the 20s youth?
The diet of the Americans changed in general as hygiene improved. As there was an increase in farming activities, especially wheat, most Americans ate wheat related products and fresh farm produce. Moreover, with new commodities manufacture for skin use, there was an overall change in the way people groomed themselves. With new trends in fashion, urban women adopted a new style of grooming. There emerged a class of Americans with extra money and desire to spend. This increased the demand for goods.
In this era, there was a huge increase in cash being spent on leisure activities such as sports, movies and dances. However, the new pursuits of leisure time became a conflict with culture. Nightclubs became accessed by various groups including women who had been restricted earlier. The 20s also saw an increase in consumer spending. The middle class afforded technology as a result of mass production. People started spending on goods and services from the chemical, movie, automobile, and radio industries. There was a boom in Hollywood as entertainment became availed to the masses. Going to the theater to watch a movie became accessible and affordable.
The spirit in the 1920s was that of a feeling of discontinuity; that is a break with old traditions. There were changes in the American way of life. Birth rate fell down as divorce rate increased. There was an increase in sexual activity before and after marriage. A sizable number of working class women began working outside their homes. These women also started attending colleges as they entered professional careers. There were concerns that the American family was in a crisis. Moralists wondered whether the family could survive in the new social order that had emerged. The modern woman sought to be equal with the man, for example, she went to a night club, drunk, smoked and sought for sexual gratification.
What roles did mass media come to play in people’s lives?
The 1920s also saw an emergence of numerous radio stations. In 1922, KDKA began broadcasting in Pittsburgh as the first commercial radio station. Numerous others proliferated at a remarkable rate. These radio stations were very instrumental in promoting music genres like jazz (Hakim, 1995). Many Americans began to listen to sweet music, as musicians became exposed to the masses due to the spread of radio stations.
Another area that boomed in the 1920s was the movies. The first all-color feature known as the Toll of the Sea was released in 1922. The year 1926 saw Warner Bros release Don Juan as the first feature that had music and sound effects, and in 1927, The Jazz Singer, as the first sound feature that included restricted talking sequences. There were many cartoons that released in the following years, which became popular in numerous movie theaters during this period. This is the time that Walt Disney emerged, in addition to the emergence of box office draws such as Charlie Chaplin, Billie Dove, Joan Crawford, Colleen Moore, Al Jolson and many others.
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There was a lot of advertising going on as the emerging fashion popularized. Both radio stations and movie theaters did a lot of advertising to sell fashion and other consumer products. Newspapers and magazines were instrumental in selling out the new social lifestyle that had emerged in the 1920s. There was a lot of literary activity, as numerous works of notable authors made an appearance. Young women’s fashion became a trend as well as a social statement as immortalized in magazine covers and movies. Radio advertising became instrumental for mass marketing during this period (Hakim, 1995).
What changes did women see in their personal lives and social status?
The 1920s gave birth to what can be referred to as the feminine mystique. During this time, many women wanted to marry; they wanted to stay at home with their children and do housework such as cooking and cleaning. In addition to this, it is important to note that they were highly educated and working, so, they freely exercised their purchasing power (Brown, 1987). They did this frequently with the aim of bettering their homes and families. On the other hand, housewives began feeling unsatisfied and frustrated.
The 1920s also saw most women begin attending large state universities and colleges. They began entering mainstream middle class experience. They typically began enrolling in classes such as home economics. Notably, this post-war era was increasingly becoming conservative. Women could attend college with the aim of finding a suitable husband. They were fueled with the idea of being sexually liberated; hence the dating exercise underwent major changes on universities and colleges.
A legislation that was passed at the beginning of the twentieth century saw numerous factories paying a minimum wage and shortening their workdays (Brown, 1987). With this legislation, there was a shift of focus in the 1920s to job performance so as to meet demand. Many women, including black females, were employed in sectors like laundry and agriculture. The economic boom in the 1920s meant more opportunities extended to lower classes. Women advanced in the work force; they became hired for office jobs.
When the 19th amendment was passed in 1920, women gained the political equality they had been fighting for. During this time, women wanted to succeed in areas that they had been earlier denied. There were groups such as the National Women’s Party (NWP) that kept on fighting foe more political rights. They proposed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923, worked to do away with laws that employed sex as a discrimination tool.