A look at the American census taken in 1920 reveals an interesting employment landscape that reveals the way the country was changing.
The most common job in America was farming, particularly dairy farming. Over ten million men and women were employed in the dairy farming industry, which is a far greater number than exists today. America was largely an agricultural and rural society in the 1920s.
The next most common jobs were clerks and retail dealers, which accounted for almost three million more people and again gave women a growing presence in the job market. Salesmen and saleswomen contributed to another 1.1 million American jobs, demonstrating the growing presence of shopping malls and smaller, family-owned retail businesses that were emerging across the American landscape.
Nearly a million people were employed as machinists, millwrights, and toolmakers, which demonstrated the growing industrial climate in America. New technologies and inventions led to booming automobile, petroleum, steel, and chemical industries in America during this decade.
The tenth most common profession in 1920 was teaching. This was likely the most common means that women had to gain professional employment, though they often faced contractual stipulations. It was not uncommon, for example, for a female teacher to be forbidden to keep company with men, to face curfew hours which forced her to be home by dark unless with her father or brother, or to be forbidden from wearing brightly colored dresses. Though they could gain professional employment, these types of rules prevented many women from becoming teachers and stifled the employment freedoms which so many women sought during this decade.
Coal mining was the twelfth most common job, employing 733,000 people. This reflects the dependence of society in the 1920s to utilize coal as an energy source; today, we have varied alternate energy sources that are more environmentally conscious and lessen the inherent risks to those employed in the coal mining industry.
The thirteenth and fourteenth most common jobs were iron and steel laborers and operatives. The fifteenth most common job was construction laborers. Together, this indicates the growth of American society. People were producing a great quantity of steel that was needed to construct the quickly-developing cities all over America.
America was rapidly changing in the 1920s. Though it was predominately still an agricultural society with great numbers of people living on and working for farms, a new type of America was emerging, centered in cities and producing needed goods for people who were increasingly moving to those areas.