Topics in the News
The Affair With the Automobile
Sinclair Lewis wrote in 1922, "To George F. Babbitt, as to most prosperous citizens of Zenith, his motor car was poetry and tragedy, love and heroism." As one historian put it, "No people on earth took to the motorcar so quickly or so passionately as the Americans." They adored the automobile because it provided them with individual privacy and freedom of movement, both deeply valued in American culture. Autos changed dating and courting behavior by providing couples with a new source of privacy. Motorcars permitted the growth of suburbs, enabling urban workers to live outside the city but to avoid fixed railroad schedules and routes, high fares, crowded railcars, and long waits in terminals.
Henry Ford created the automobile revolution by making automobiles accessible to ordinary Americans, and by 1929 more than 23 million cars were registered and 5.3 million new cars were produced annually. Automobile technology advanced in the 1920s with the development of hydraulic brakes, more powerful engines, safety glass, and balloon tires. Closed-roof cars providing protection from weather were increasingly affordable, and by the end of the decade nine of ten cars sold had closed roofs. Automobiles became handsome in the 1920s, with sweeping fenders and colorful lacquers. The motorcar had become indispensable...
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The African American Experience
Migration and Disappointment.Antisegregation race riots in Chicago, Knoxville, Omaha, and Washington, D.C., in 1919 indicated the emergence of a more militant "New Negro" who would dare to pursue economic opportunities
New Black Communities.
Migration north was traumatic, but black families developed ways to cope with their difficulties. Blacks, like immigrant groups, used chain migration: one member of a family moving alone to a new location, getting a job, and then helping others of his family to join him. In northern cities blacks quickly , re-created their own communities, establishing churches, southern-style restaurants, and...
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Ku Klux Klan (KKK) activism and violence in the 1920s represented a reaction by some native-born, Protestant whites to the growing diversification of American society and an effort to impose their version of law and order on it. Based on the vigilante group that sprung up in the post-Civil War South, a new KKK emerged in 1915 at Stone Mountain, Georgia, when sixteen men lit a cross symbolizing the Klan's resurrection. Between 1920 and 1925 the group quickly grew until it had five million members. Klansmen, who viewed themselves as embodying "100 percent Americanism," shared an antipathy to blacks, Jews, Catholics, and immigrants.
The Klan primarily used violent viligantism to terrorize so-called moral offenders, but it also worked through political channels. In the early 1920s the Klan dominated politics in Indiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. It deadlocked the 1924 Democratic National Convention by successfully opposing the condemnation of the Klan by name. The group lobbied on the national level for laws restricting immigration. Because of its excesses, the organization lost most of its strength by the end of the decade.
David Mark Chalmers, Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan, third edition (Durham, N.C.:...
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The Birth Control Movement
Women from all economic classes gained greater ability to limit pregnancy in the 1920s as a result of the effort of nurse and birth control advocate Margaret Sänger, who vowed to "do something to change the destiny of mothers whose miseries were as vast as the sky." By 1914 Sanger was determined to remove the stigma of obscenity from contraception and to set up a nationwide network of advice centers on birth control for women. She first had to find a safe, reliable method of birth control and, in 1915, traveled to Europe, where she learned about the diaphragm. By the 1920s Sänger broke her ties with radical colleagues, a shift in approach that won her the support of powerful, conservative groups such as physicians, philanthropists, and wealthy women.
In 1921 Sanger organized the American Birth Control League, which changed its name to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942. In 1923 she opened the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in New York City, the first doctor-staffed birth-control clinic in the United States. The bureau, which refuted claims that diaphragms cause cancer and madness, became a model for the network of more than three hundred clinics established by Sänger across the country by 1938. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Sänger worked tirelessly to raise money for these...
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Although the concept of "boosting" a town or region began in the late nineteenth century, the phenomenon of boosterism reached its peak of popularity during the 1920s. Boosterism was a civic philosophy that aimed to advertise towns and cities, promote economic development, foster tourism, and increase civic pride. Business, boosters claimed, was an indispensable part of society: commercial development led directly to improvements in all aspects of life in a town or city. This philosophy manifested itself loudly and brashly during the decade. Citizens, boosters insisted, should have "pep" and aim continuously to "push" their communities' advantages. Anyone criticizing elements of local life were likely to be labeled "knockers" and opponents to progress. The phenomenon of boosterism was a product of the changing nature of American economic life. The sharp increase in commercial occupations such as sales, management, and advertising left more and more men in an ambiguous social position. They fit neither the traditional category of professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, nor that of skilled craftsmen. The philosophy of boosterism gave these Americans a sense of purpose and value in their communities. The emphasis placed on community service by civic clubs and chambers of commerce allowed businessmen to consider themselves motivated by more than personal financial gain; it...
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Fads and Crazes
In 1924 Richard Leo Simon and Max Lincoln Schuster published their first volume, The Cross Word Puzzle Book, which was also the world's first collection of crossword puzzles. Simon and Schuster were so concerned the book might fail that they published it under a separate imprint, Plaza Publishing Company, to conceal their identities. They attached a pencil to each copy, vigorously advertised it, and turned crosswords into a nationwide rage. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad put dictionaries on their trains to help puzzle players. A headline in the Ohio State University student newspaper in February 1925 read: "Cross Word Puzzle Craze Gripping American Campuses." College newspapers published puzzles, college teams competed in puzzle contests, and the University of Kentucky offered a course in crosswords, approved by a dean who commented that
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Sigmund Freud's theories enjoyed great popularity in the 1920s. Aspects of his work made their way into everyday conversation, journalism, and literature. Before his time, psychology had been overwhelmingly concerned with the intellect, regarding conscious perceptions and ideas as the fundamental factors of mental health. In opposition to this focus on the surface of the mind, Freud claimed that "subconscious" urges, desires, and inhibitions dominated human behavior. According to his theories, traumas suffered in childhood were often forgotten or "repressed" by the conscious mind only to dominate the subconscious, manifesting themselves in neurotic behavior or even serious mental illness. The practical goal of Freud's psychoanalytic method was to cure mental illness by discovering its hidden causes, which, when brought to the surface, could be addressed and resolved.
Freudianism's Vogue in the 1920s.
Many people from nonscientific backgrounds were fascinated by the idea of searching for the subconscious causes of their thoughts and actions. Few laypeople, however, actually read Freud. Most often they took their information from one of the many accessible summaries of Freud's work that were available by 1920. Such summaries tended to reduce and distort the original for the mass audience. One successful popularizer was André...
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The Impact of Technology on Daily Life
Electricity and Water.
During the 1920s the spread of technology transformed the way average Americans lived their daily lives. In 1920 only 34.7 percent of American dwellings had electricity; by 1930 67.9 percent had electric power. In the cities the growth was even more dramatic: 84.8 percent of all urban homes were wired for electricity by 1930, compared to only 47.4 percent a decade earlier. Hot and cold running water, which had been available only to the upper classes at the turn of the century, also became common, particularly in urban areas. In 1929 the President's Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership reported that 71 percent of urban homes had indoor bathrooms. A 1926 survey of the residents of Zanesville, Ohio, revealed that 91 percent of the city's houses were equipped with running water and that 61 percent had complete plumbing systems. This increased availability of electricity and water made possible the proliferation of appliances and conveniences that changed daily life in American society.
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Masculinity and the Experience of Men
New Heroes: Athletes.
In his 1921 novel Three Soldiers, John Dos Passos described soldiers wounded in World War I as "discarded automatons, broken toys laid away in rows." World War I was a war without heroes, and veterans returned to America disillusioned and cynical. They searched at home for new male heroes and affirmations of manhood. Some men gave hero status to athletes, and popular excitement over spectator sports became intense. The 1920s have been called the "Golden Age of Sport," when athletics were "seated on the American throne." Baseball was the national pastime, but football nearly "became a national religion." One found "real men" on the gridiron and the diamond: the Sultan of Swat (Babe Ruth), the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame (Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, and Elmer Layden), the Galloping Ghost (Red Grange). A journalist for Collier's wrote in 1929, "I've seen moral courage in football as often as physical. I've seen football make men out of condemned material."
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The Noble Experiment
The Eighteenth Amendment, outlawing the sale of liquor, was the culmination of the campaigns of the Anti-Saloon League and the Women's Christian Temperance Union to dry up the United States. Forty-six states ratified the amendment, which went into effect in January 1920. The fight for Prohibition was a cultural conflict between white, native, Protestant Americans and new immigrants, as well as a conflict between women and men. Mainstream Protestants associated the saloon with the working-class and immigrant cultures they wished to bring in line with their own values. Women fought for Prohibition to protect their homes and families, recognizing that drunken husbands used up a family's income on liquor and often physically or sexually abused their wives and children.
A Fool's Errand.
Resistance to Prohibition had been fierce: 1919 New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate Edward I. Edwards pledged to "make New Jersey as wet as the Atlantic Ocean." While Prohibition curbed alcohol consumption in the 1920s, strict enforcement was clearly, as one historian...
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Scientific Child Rearing
Fewer Children, More Attention.
In the 1920s families were smaller than in the past and continued to get smaller: the average number of children born to a woman who lived the usual number of childbearing years was 3.56 in 1900, 3.17 in 1920, 2.5 in 1925, and 1.8 in 1935. There were fewer children in the population and more adults per child. These changes meant that adult attention could be focused on the individual child. For most families by the 1920s, children lived at home until they were fully grown and attended school longer than any generation in the past. The experience of children of the same age group was increasingly uniform. Childhood now tended to be quite leisured, sheltered from adult concerns, and focused on preparation for adulthood.
New attitudes toward children and new economic conditions affecting them freed children from work and other adult responsibilities by the 1920s. After the turn of the century, children were "sacralized"—that is, invested with new religious and sentimental meaning—and they were held above financial considerations. Child labor laws signaled this change: the laws removed children from the labor force, in part because it became more efficient to educate children than to employ them. Child labor laws also reflected the idea that the only acceptable work for the...
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Women Get the Vote
"Hurrah! And Vote for Suffrage."
So shouted Harry Burn, at twenty-four the youngest member of the U.S. House of Representatives, on 18 August 1920, when he heeded his mother's admonition and cast the final vote for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Twenty-six million women were enfranchised, and a battle for women's suffrage that began at the Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention in 1848 finally was won.
Initially elated, activist women quickly discovered that the vote was not the panacea for women they hoped. First, women did not vote in blocs or uniformly support women's issues; they voted according to race, social class, religious background, and geographic location. Furthermore, women's groups did not agree on the best strategy for further reform, and some women did not believe additional reform was necessary at all. As suffrage leader Anna Howard Shaw lamented in 1920, "I am sorry for you young women who have to carry on the work for the next ten years, for suffrage was a symbol, and now you have lost your symbol."
After 1920 the suffrage movement fragmented into factions: social feminists who sought reform of society in general; feminists who focused on expanded roles for women; women who were dedicated to...
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Women Go to Work
"There is a tacit understanding that women should not make over twenty-five cents an hour."
In 1920 women composed 23.6 percent of the labor force, and 8.3 million women older than the age of fifteen worked outside the home. By 1930 the percentage of women in the work force rose to 27, and their numbers increased to 11 million. World War I had expanded women's employment in new sectors of the economy, and by 1920, 25.6 percent of employed women worked in white-collar office-staff jobs, 23.8 percent in manufacturing, 18.2 percent in domestic service, and 12.9 percent in agriculture. While the first generation of college-educated women entered professions in the 1920s, they found opportunities only in nurturing "women's professions," such as nursing, teaching, social work, and, within medicine, pediatrics. And in factories, while male factory workers on federal contracts in 1920 started at forty cents an hour, women started at twenty-five cents.
The Women's Bureau and WTUL.
The Women's Bureau, a new federal agency approved by Congress in June 1920, was charged with reporting the conditions of women in industry and promoting the welfare of working women. The Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) also fought to improve women's labor conditions in the 1920s. The WTUL argued that protective legislation based on women's special position as...
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A flamboyant youth subculture with its own ways of speaking, dressing, and acting flourished in the 1920s. Youth peer culture grew in the context of the family's retreat into a private emotional world and of the extended length of time teenagers and young adults spent in school. In the 1920s the high school, college, and peer group replaced the family's role in socializing adolescents; now these institutions defined the world of youth.
The new importance of schooling in creating peer culture was indicated by the marked acceleration in rates of attendance: between 1900 and 1930 highschool enrollments increased 650 percent, and attendance in colleges and universities went up threefold. Of the three decades, the 1920s witnessed the greatest rate of increase. By 1930 school attendance was a mass phenomenon for the first time: close to 60 percent of the highschool age population and almost 20 percent of those of college age enrolled in school. Thus school peer culture now reached youth from a wide range of economic classes and racial and ethnic groups, blending and homogenizing patterns of behavior and attitudes among these diverse groups.
According to Middletown, sociologists Robert S. and Helen Merrell Lynd's classic...
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Abbott, Grace 1878-1939
SOCIAL WORKER AND DIRECTOR, FEDERAL CHILDREN'S BUREAU
Passion to Reform.
Grace Abbott inherited her inclination toward public affairs from her father, who was active in Nebraska politics and the state's first lieutenant governor. From her mother, an abolitionist and suffragist, she derived her passion to reform the world. Abbott grew up on the expansive Nebraska prairies and in 1898 graduated from Grand Island College in her hometown. She taught high school in Grand Island for eight years and in 1907 followed her sister, social worker Edith Abbott, to Chicago to attend graduate school in political science at the University of Chicago. Grace Abbott earned a master's degree in 1909.
During the first decade of the twentieth century, Chicago was home to a vital circle of women intellectuals and social reformers. Grace Abbott was immediately attracted to Hull House, Jane Addams's pioneer social settlement, where she became a resident in 1908 and lived for nine...
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Epstein, Abraham 1892-1945
PIONEER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
A pioneer of the American social-insurance movement, Abraham Epstein was born in Luban, near Pinsk, Russia, and came to the United States at the age of eighteen. He lived in New York City and worked at factory jobs for one and one-half years, until a friend got him a job teaching Hebrew in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Soon after his arrival, he walked into an exclusive private boys' school, asked about enrollment, passed the entrance examination, and won a tuition scholarship to attend East Liberty Academy. Another scholarship enabled him to enter the University of Pittsburgh, where he received a B.S. in 1917. That same year he became an American citizen.
Commission on Old Age Pensions.
Epstein continued to do graduate work in economics at the university and conducted a detailed survey of employment and housing conditions of Pittsburgh's black population. This study, The Negro Migrant in Pittsburgh (1918), won him offers of several university fellowships, but he instead took a position at the Pennsylvania Commission on Old Age Pensions. He remained there until 1927, securing the passage of a state-financed old-age-pension program in 1923, despite vigorous business opposition. The pension act was declared unconstitutional in 1924, and before the decision could be appealed,...
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Frank, Lawrence K. 1890-1968
FOUNDATION EXECUTIVE AND BEHAVIORAL SCIENTIST
Anthropologist Margaret Mead said in her obituary of Lawrence K. Frank that he "used [philanthropic] foundations the way the Lord meant them to be used." Frank grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and received his B.A. degree in economics from Columbia University in 1912. As a graduate student he met Columbia economist Wesley C. Mitchell, who with his wife, the educator Lucy Sprague Mitchell, became friends and influential mentors of Frank.
Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial.
In 1923 Frank was selected as director of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, a new foundation that was part of the Rockefeller family philanthropies and devoted exclusively to the well-being of children. Instead of using the foundation's considerable resources to aid existing child-welfare agencies, Frank decided to create new preventive facilities studying the psychological development of normal children. He designed a university-based child-study program including research on child growth and development along with parent education on child rearing.
Child Welfare Research Institutes.
Frank's new program included conducting practical research that would lead to the establishment of norms for the behavior of the "average American...
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Lindsey, Ben 1869-1943
In 1901 Ben Lindsey became judge of the Juvenile and Family Court of Denver, which in the 1920s was the best-known court of its kind in the world. Lindsey grew up in Jackson, Tennessee, until he was eleven, when his family moved to Denver. He returned to Tennessee and went to high school at Southwestern Baptist University. In these years he became close to his aunt's husband, who had unorthodox views about politics and economics and who influenced Lindsey's thinking.
Lawyer and Judge.
Lindsey returned to Denver at the age of sixteen, and his father, plagued by debt, committed suicide. Ben and his younger brother became family breadwinners. He was unable to finish high school but worked in a law office and began to read law. When he was nineteen, he attempted suicide out of fatigue and despair. After this crisis, as Lindsey later described it, he resolved to continue in the law and was admitted to the bar in 1894 at the age of twenty-four. Lindsey entered Democratic...
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Lynd, Robert S. and Lynd, Helen Merrell 1892-1970, 1896-1982
With their two groundbreaking studies of American life, Middletown (1929) and Middle-town in Transition (1937), Robert S. and Helen Merrell Lynd helped found the field of modern sociology. Their research made available for the first time an in-depth account of how average Americans lived their daily lives during the 1920s.
Robert Staughton Lynd was born in New Albany, Indiana, and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. He graduated from Princeton in 1914 and for four years served as the managing editor of Publishers' Weekly. Following a year of service in World War I, Lynd worked briefly for Charles Scribner's Sons and The Freeman Magazine before entering Union Theological Seminary. Helen Merrell was born in La Grange, Illinois, and attended Wellesley College, from which she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1919. For two years she taught in girls' schools in New York, where she met Robert Lynd. They were married in 1922. After Robert Lynd received his divinity degree in 1923, the Lynds became missionaries in the oil fields of Montana. Their experiences in the oil fields convinced them of the inequities in American society, and their interests shifted from religion to sociology. In the mid 1920s Robert Lynd directed a series of "Small City" studies for...
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Park, Maud Wood 1871-1955
SUFFRAGIST, CIVIC LEADER
Maud Wood Park became first president of the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization to educate new voters following the passage of woman's suffrage in 1920. Maud Wood grew up in Boston and earned money by teaching in Chelsea High School in order to attend Radcliffe College. In 1898 she graduated summa cum laude from Radcliffe, where she was one of only two students in a class of seventy-two to favor the vote for women. While still a student, she married Charles Edward Park, a Boston architect, in 1897. The couple lived near the Boston settlement Denison House, introducing Maud Wood Park to social-reform work. Charles Park died in 1904.
For fifteen years Maud Wood Park was active in suffrage and civic work in Boston. She became chair of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association in 1900 and executive secretary of the Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government, which was devoted to combining work for suffrage with activities for civic betterment, A charismatic speaker, Park traveled widely to enlist college women in the cause of suffrage. In 1916 her friend Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman's Suffrage Association (NAWSA), persuaded Park to join the NAWSA's Congressional Committee and to go to Washington to lobby...
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Post, Emily Price 1872-1960
WRITER, AUTHORITY OF ETIQUETTE, INTERIOR DECORATOR
Raised in a genteel, upper-class Manhattan home, young Emily Price personally embodied the ideals of etiquette that later made her famous. She was born in Baltimore but moved with her family to New York City in 1877, when her father, Bruce Price, gained national prominence as an architect. Price was reared by a governess and educated at Miss Graham's finishing school. Her extraordinary beauty and manners attracted wide attention.
Soon after her New York society debut, Emily Price married Edwin M. Post, a businessman. The couple lived on Staten Island and then in Manhattan, and Emily Post made frequent trips to Europe. She wrote long, lively letters home while abroad, which she turned into her 1904 novel, The Flight of a Moth. The Posts had two sons, Edwin Jr. and Bruce Price, the latter of whom died in 1927, but her husband's extramarital affairs led to the couple's divorce in 1905.
Novels and Sentimentalism.
Forced to supplement her income to raise her sons,...
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People in the News
In 1922 Charles Atlas (born Angelos Sicilano) was named "America's Most Perfectly Developed Man" in a Madison Square Garden physical culture exhibition, launching his popular mail-order body-building course.
In 1920 Mary Ritter Beard, a suffrage activist and pioneering historian of women, published A Short History of the Labor Movement. Her later works included On Understanding Women (1931), and Women As a Force in History (1946).
Gertrude Bonnin, a Native American who preferred the Indian name Zitkala-Sa—, worked tirelessly for Indian rights. In 1921, after she moved to Washington, D.C., she conducted a survey of conditions of Native Americans for the Indian Welfare Commission and thereafter worked for years for improvements in health and education and for the conservation of Indian lands.
In 1922 seventeen-year-old Clara Bow, who, during the 1920s, became a major star of films and was dubbed the "It Girl/' won a fan-magazine contest for "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World."
In February 1926 Vanities producer Earl Carroll offered seventeen-year-old Joyce Hawley $1,000 to sit nude in a bathtub of champagne at his party. Hawley started to cry when guests arrived.
In January 1925, Floyd Collins, a young Kentuckian...
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Antionette Louisa Brown Blackwell, 96, abolitionist, woman's rights advocate, and first woman ordained as a minister in the United States (by the Congregational Church in 1853), 5 November 1921.
Richard Henry Boyd, 79, who was born a slave, became a Baptist minister in 1870, and built Baptist churches all over Texas, 27 August 1922.
Charles Horton Cooley, 65, University of Michigan professor who, through his reading and writings, laid the groundwork for the study of sociology; he was a founder and the first president of the American Sociological Society, 8 May 1929.
John Cotton Dana, 72, librarian who introduced open shelves, children's departments, and branch libraries during his forty years of public-library service in Denver, Colorado; Springfield, Massachusetts; and Newark, New Jersey, 21 July 1929.
Lucy Flower, 84, social reformer who worked for the establishment of the first juvenile court, in Cook County, Illinois, 27 April 1921.
Frederick Taylor Gates, 78, educational fundraiser and philanthropist who organized the planning of the University of Chicago, advised John D. Rockefeller on the establishment of Rockefeller's General Education Board, the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, and the Rockefeller Foundation, 6 February 1929....
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Richard O. Beard, ed., Parent Education (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1927);
Phyllis Blanchard, The Care of the Adolescent Girl (London: Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1921);
George A. Coe, What Ails Our Youth? (New York: Scribners, 1925);
John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct (New York: Holt, 1922);
Dewey, Individualism, Old and New (New York: Minton, Balch, 1930);
V. F. Claverton, The Bankruptcy of Marriage (New York: Macaulay, 1928);
Katherine Bement Davis, Factors in the Sex Life of Twenty-Two Hundred Women (New York: Harper, 1929);
Arnold L. Gesell, Infancy and Human Growth (New York: Macmillan, 1928);
G. V. Hamilton, A Research in Marriage (New York: Boni, 1929);
Jesse F. Hayden, The Art of Marriage (High Point, N.C.: Book Sales Agency, 1926);
Ben Lindsey, Companionate Marriage (New York: Boni &Liveright, 1927);
Lindsey and Wainwright Evans, The Revolt of Modern Youth (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1925);
Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd, Middletown: A Study in Contemporary American Culture (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929);...
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- The U.S. Census reports that the population of the United States is 105,710,620. For the first time in census history, the U.S. population is less than 50 percent rural; and the population earning their living through farming is less than 30 percent.
- In this year 80 percent of all women in their thirties are married.
- Women make up 23.6 percent of the American workforce, and 8.3 million women work outside their homes.
- Thirteen percent of Americans are first-generation immigrants.
- The median size of the American family is 4.3 people, a drop from 4.7 in 1900. Average life expectancy is 54 years, up from 49 years in 1900.
- Birth control advocate Margaret Sanger campaigns for birth control as a means to women's personal and economic freedom.
- Prohibition results in increases in sales of coffee, tea, soft drinks, and ice cream sodas.
- Silk stockings are out and rayon hose from the DuPont Fibersilk Company are in. Frigidaire refrigerators are replacing the old icebox. Pogo sticks are introduced. New brand name products include La Choy Chinese food, Campfire marshmallows, and Baby Ruth candy bars—named for the daughter of former president Grover Cleveland.
- A vacuum cleaner costs forty dollars on the installment...
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