The 1920s overview
Although the USA did not enter the First World War until April 1917, the conflict cast a shadow over American society that would take a while to pass. There was a brief economic recession at the start of the 1920s, but, as the decade moved on, the economy boomed and America began the age of consumerism - many Americans bought cars, radios, fridges etc. Major cities such as New York and Chicago grew rapidly and the building of skyscrapers like the Empire State Building, which was completed in 1931, seemed to show the self-confidence of American society.
At the same time, many Americans wanted to enjoy themselves as much as they could by perhaps listening to the new jazz music, or doing the new dances such as the charleston and the black bottom. Crowds flocked to watch film stars like Charlie Chaplin and baseball stars like Babe Ruth. The emphasis on having fun and spending money has led to the 1920s being called the Roaring Twenties.
However, for many Americans, the 1920s was a decade of poverty. Generally, groups such as African-Americans, women and farmers did not enjoy the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties. More than 60 per cent of Americans lived just below the poverty line. Life was particularly hard for African-Americans in the Deep South states where the majority of black people endured a combination of poverty and racism. Although some women were able to enjoy more independence and wear the latest fashions, the reality was that most women were poorly paid and were employed in roles such as cleaners or waitresses
The changing role of American women in the 1920s
- The changing role of women was a result of the work they did during the war.
- The number of working women increased by 25 per cent.
- In 1920, all women were given the right to vote.
- 'Flappers' smoked in public, danced the new dances, and were sexually liberated.
- Women wore clothing more convenient for activity and stopped wearing long skirts and corsets.
- Divorce was made easier and the number of divorces doubled - women were not content just to stay at home and put up with bad husbands.
- But most women were still housewives and were not as free as their men.
America was in a fortunate position as the First World War ended. The war had not directly damaged American society and it had led to increased demand for American goods. This resulted in the rapid growth of industry and farming. The economy grew even faster when the war ended.
The keys to America's economic boom were technological progress and increased consumer demand. Businesses began to make huge profits.
Industrial production virtually doubled in the 1920s.
Between 1919 and 1920:
- America's gross national product (GNP) grew from $78 billion to $103 billion.
- The number of households with a radio rose from 60,000 to 10 million.
- The number of people filing income tax returns for earnings of more…