The United States after World War I was filled with contradictions. On the one hand, people yearned to get back to what they regarded as their traditional lives before WWI—Warren Harding was able to win the presidency on a pledge to "Return to Normalcy." On the other hand, women who...
The United States after World War I was filled with contradictions. On the one hand, people yearned to get back to what they regarded as their traditional lives before WWI—Warren Harding was able to win the presidency on a pledge to "Return to Normalcy." On the other hand, women who had found jobs outside the home during WWI were in no hurry to abandon their careers and public lives. Women got the right to vote with the Nineteenth Amendment. Hollywood showed images of women as leading ladies who could enjoy life independent of men. The flapper was the "modern" woman of the 1920s who could go to parties and work without needing the approval of men. Older generations and conservatives frowned upon this, as they thought that these attitudes were immoral and would break the American family.
The Ku Klux Klan rediscovered its popularity due to shifting American demographics. African Americans left the South for factory jobs in the North, thus creating social tensions in the postwar era due to a shortage of jobs early in the decade. The Ku Klux Klan was also able to take advantage of the idea that many Americans thought that the US existed for the benefit of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The Klan attacked immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe who were fleeing poverty and political turmoil. These immigrants were also more likely to be Jewish or Eastern Orthodox. The Klan was able to drum up fears of a possible Bolshevik or anarchist attack on the United States from these new immigrants. Due to political pressure, Congress passed the National Origins Act of 1924, which severely restricted immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe at a time when these refugees needed the United States the most.
There had long been a push for national Prohibition in the United States as both a deterrent to immigration from Germany and Ireland as well as to promote the Christian value of temperance. WWI brought about a practical need to limit alcohol consumption, as wheat was needed for the Allied war effort. After the war, religious conservatives backed lobbyists such as Wayne Wheeler who were willing to support or condemn political candidates solely based on their stance towards national Prohibition. Xenophobic groups also supported this, since they hoped that it would make the nation less attractive to immigrants. Prohibition was one of the last pieces of progressive legislation to be passed before the Great Depression, but it failed due to a lack of public interest and a lack of political will to enforce it properly.
The social contradictions of the 1920s can be seen as two opposing viewpoints of the future of the United States. One group saw the United States as primarily Christian with conservative values with traditional family roles. Another group wished to see a more pluralistic United States in terms of gender roles and cultural backgrounds. The conservative attitudes can be witnessed with the rise of the Klan, Prohibition, and the National Origins Act. The counterpoint to this would be the overall flouting of Prohibition and the popularity of the flapper in both print media and cinema.