Social Problems and Tensions 1917-28

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Timeline of key dates:

      • 1917 - Lever Act.
      • 1919 - Eighteenth Amendment ratified. 
      • 1920 - Nineteenth Amendment in place, women given the vote. Palmer Raids. Presidency of Warren Harding begins. 
      • 1921 - Budget and Accounting Act. Emergency Immigration Act. Sheppard-Towner Act.
      • 1923 - Death of Harding. Presidency of Coolidge begins. The KKK claims to have 5,000,000 members.
      • 1924 - Johnson-Reed immigration Act.
      • 1925 - The Monkey Trial/Scopes Trial.
      • 1927 - Execution of Sacco and Vanzetti.
      • 1933 - End of prohibition.

Women's Suffrage

  • By 1916, both Republican and Democrat parties had given support.
  • Alice Paul organised suffrage parades in Washington (1912-20) in order to maximise publicity and disruption
  • In 1917, Alice Paul and 96 other suffragettes were arrested after picketing the White House and "disrupting traffic". Similarly to the suffragettes in the UK, these women went on hungerstrike in prison and were consequently force-fed.
  • In 1918, the resolution to give women the vote was finally passed in both houses. The Nineteenth Amendment had to go back to the states for their agreement. In August 1920, Tennessee cast the final yes needed for the necessary majority. 
  • The opposition to female suffrage was mainly from the industries, such as alcohol and textiles. Within the alcohol industry, there was a fear that women, once allowed the vote, would support prohibition. Similarly, there was a fear within the textiles industry too. However it was mainly a fear that women would have now have influence over working conditions and pay now that they were allowed to vote.

Presidency of Warren Harding

  • Harding's campaign focuses were isolationism and a reduced government role
  • He stated that the USA needed to "return to normalcy", which meant people being dependent on their own efforts and that the government involvement was limited.
  • Harding was elected to reduce the role of the federal government, which in turn made it more efficient. 
  • Strengths:
    • Made very good appointments:
      • Andrew Mellon as treasury secretary.
      • Charles Evans Hughes as secretary of state.
      • Herbert Hoover as secretary of commerce.
    • He had promised to cut government expenditure and in 1922, expenditure fell to $3373m, which meant that Mellon could reduce taxes. (Which was done in the years 1924, 1926 and 1928).
    • Harding spoke out against racial segregation.
  • Weaknesses:
    • Appointed dubious characters, and was potentially a corrupt president. 
    • Administration seemed to achieve little, but he was also elected to do little.


Volstead Act, eighteenth amendment.

  • Ratified January 1919, enforced January 1920, abolished 1933.
  • Banned the sale, transportation and manufacture of liquor.
  • Defined intoxicating liquor as anything with an alcohol content of +0.5%

Why was it approved?

  • The impact of war:
    • The Lever Act banned the use of grain in drinks anyway.
    • Brewers tended to be of German origin, and following the war, there was an anti-German feeling.
    • It was felt that alcohol led young soldiers into temptation and sinful ways.
  • Disorganisation of opposition: 
    • There was little protest against the idea of prohibition.

Who supported it?


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