The Roaring Twenties

America in the 1920's

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The 1920's were known as the 'Jazz Age' due to the popularity of the African-american music amongst young people. In films, on the radio and on records Jazz music could be heard with it's dramatic rhythms.

Many parents were alarmed at their children's enthusiasm for such music with it's sexually explict lyrics and dances.

The cinema also played a key role in the life of young Americans. Hollywood was producing films that influenced the habits and lifestyles of the young. For example smoking grew in popularity as it was seen as a sophisticated habit.

The first films had no sound and so a pianist was used to play suitable music during the film.

Film actors such as Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford became huge stars.

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The role of women

Films also reflected the appearance of the 'flapper' which was a new and more liberated young woman.

Skirts rose from six inches below the knee to the knee itself, petticoats disappeared and hairstyles became shorter.

Filmstars like Joan Crawford were imitated as she kissed, drank, smoked, and danced the Charleston

More women also went to work-by 1929 some 10 million American women worked, although they were still paid less than men.

Women were also given the vote in 1920.

The development of labour-saving devices such as the washing machine and vacuum cleaner gave women more opportunities for work and leisure

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The role of women (continued)

As a result women tended to have fewer children.

Also they lived longer than their mothers and their grandmothers; in 1900 the average lifespan was 51, but by 1925 it was 63.

Women were also less likely to remain in unhappy marriages-the divorce rate doubled 1914-1929.

However, it would be misleading to take movies and novels of the period as an accurate image of American women in the 1920's. Many women were shocked by the appearance of the 'flappers'. These flappers tended to come from upper or middle class families. For most American women life still involved the home and domestic work. Traditional family and religious values remained strong, especcially in rural areas.

Also men were still paid more than women for doing the same job, and although women now had the vote, few were given jobs in parliament.

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By the end of the First World War a strong 'temperance' (anti-alcohol) movement had grown had grown up in the small towns and rural areas of the USA.

Members of groups such as the 'Anti-Saloon League' were often Christians who believed the use of alcohol was a sin. They blamed the 'demon drink' for many of the social problems affecting America such as violence, the breakdown of marriage, crime and sexual immorality.

On January 20th 1920, the government agreed to the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution. This banned the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol. America was to be 'dry'.

The law reflected the growing gap between the booming cities and the countryside. Many people in cities such as New York and Chicago still wanted to drink and resented this attack on their personal freedom.

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Organised Crime

Some Americans produced thier own alcohol called moonshine or bath-tub-gin. This was often damaging to their health.

To meet the needs of those Americans who still wanted to drink 'organised crime' set up and alternative and illegal industry which produced and sold booze.

'Bootleggers' smuggled alcohol across the Canadian bored or opened secret breweries to make their own drink.

They also set up 'Speakeasies'-illegal bars which could be found in every town in the country, for example in New York in 1925 there wre 100,000 speakeasies.

Gangsters like Al Capone and Bugs Moran ran rival gangs to control the bootlegging. They were able to avoid prosecution by bribing politicians and policemen-in Chicago, Capone used the Mayor, Bill Thompson as his puppet.

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Organised Crime (continued)

Also there were only 2,500 enforcement agents making it impossible to stop the bootleggers.

The vast profits to be made from bootlegging led to gang warfare. Capone was not afraid to use violence to remove those who stood in his way or tried to compete. Capone is thought to have been behind most of the 130 murders in Chicago in 1926 and 1927.

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