How far did society in the USA change in the 1920s?

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THE USA: How far did US society change in the 1920s?
What were the features of the roaring 20s?
Growing cities:
By 1920 more Americans living in towns rather than countryside.
Boom in skyscrapers in some cities e.g. NY as no more land ­ Empire State Building tallest in
the world ­ symbol of success.
Entertainment industry boomed ­ more leisure time, higher wages.
Radio: most households owned a radio, in 1921 1 radio station only ­ by 1922 508. NBC
founded 1926, CBS 1927. By 1930 40% own a radio.
Jazz ­ 1920s often known as the `Jazz Age' ­ new dances such as Charleston ­ new dresses
e.g. flappers (short dresses, make-up, smoked in public ­ before seen as unacceptable for a
woman to behave in this way).
Sport: Baseball (Babe Ruth) and boxing (Jack Dempsey) became big money popular sports ­
huge crowds.
Cinema: Hollywood in LA ­ film industry beginning. Valentino, Charlie Chaplain etc. ­ all year
round sunshine ­ movies could be made all the time. 1927 ­ First `talkie' made ­ `The Jazz
Singer' ­ Al Jolsen. 1920s ­ becomes a multi-million dollar business with a hundred million
tickets sold/week. Film stars lead glamorous lives followed by the press.
New attitudes amongst the young ­ bridge between pre and post-war generation.
Sex ­ no longer a taboo subject ­ used to sell movies ­ sex appeal of film stars.
Women smoked and drank in public ­ wore shorter dresses, short hair, drove cars, more
Contraceptives more available.
Divorce rates higher.
The Car:
Many other things made possible:
Growth of cities
To and from entertainments
Boyfriends + girlfriends away from chaperones
Sporting events
Shopping trips.
Was this the same everywhere and for everyone in America?
Countryside ­ viewed cities as evil ­ full of vice (drunkenness, criminals, atheism). Believed in
traditional values of family and religion.
Jazz ­ not popular with everyone ­ seen as corrupting by the older generation.
Films ­ corrupting ­ 36 states threatened censorship ­ Hollywood introduced its own
guidelines to prevent this.
Not everyone could take advantage of these new things e.g. poor farmers, black people,
those in older industries ­ didn't have the time or money.

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How widespread was intolerance in US society?
Majority of Americans immigrants or descendants of recent immigrants.
Immigration at an all time high from 1901-1910.
Jews from Eastern Europe and Russia fleeing persecution > America.
Italians fleeing poverty > America.
`Melting pot' of the world ­ ethnic groups in theory would lose their ethnic identity and blend
together to become `Americans' ­ wasn't always the case.…read more

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Black people in America:
First black people had been brought over as slaves ­ dominated the southern states.
Governments feared the power of black Americans ­ could not vote, denied access to good
jobs, worthwhile education ­ persecuted well into the twentieth century.
Ku Klux Klan:
White supremacy movement.
Used violence against black Americans ­ also Jews, Catholics and foreign immigrants.
Began in the 1850s ­ revived after the release of the film `The Birth of a Nation' in 1915.…read more

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­ UNIA helped black people to set up businesses e.g. UNIA grocery stores,
laundries, restaurants and even a printing workshop.
Garvey set up a shipping line to support both the UNIA businesses and also his scheme of
helping black Americans to emigrate to Africa away from white racism ­ eventually his
businesses collapsed partly because he was prosecuted for exaggerating the value of his
shares ­ charged for this offence ­ some believed that Hoover was behind this prosecution.…read more

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School ­ most people taught evolution.
Fundamentalists felt that this was undermining their religion ­ led by William Jennings Bryan ­
managed to pass a law banning the teaching of evolution in six states. Idea of evolution ­
sinful and wrong.
Biology teacher ­ John Scopes ­ deliberately broke the law so he could be arrested and put
his case against Fundamentalism in the courts.…read more

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High demand for alcohol ­ lots of money to be made.
Gangs compete ­ bring in alcohol ­ violence.
Al Capone ­ gang leader.
Al Capone + gang fought Bugsy Moran + gang on the St. Valentine's Day massacre.
In California there are 130 gang murders in 1926/7 but no arrests.
Proved prohibitions point: alcohol leads to violence.…read more

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Start drinking and smoking in public.
Wild dancers.
Women began to go out without chaperones ­ made easier by the motor car.
In the home:
Electrical appliances ­ fridges, vacuum cleaners, irons.
Fridges ­ less time shopping and being a housewife ­ more time for other things e.g.
having fun.
Birth control:
Became more available.
For married women.
Fewer children.
24% more jobs for women in 1929 than in 1920.
Became the target of advertising ­ had their own money.…read more


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