Life in the Roaring Twenties

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How did 1920s social trends challenge traditional attitudes?

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The 1920s immediately followed World War I. This time period was characterized by a prosperous economy in the United States. Because of the war, many women were required to enter the workforce. When men returned from war, women were not necessarily excited to go back to their traditional roles in...

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the home.

One significant social change of this time period is the rise of visibility and rights for women. Women were granted the right to vote with the 19th Amendment in 1920. Job opportunities expanded for women, as did the number of women seeking higher education.

Both men and women became more aware of their interest in fashion. Women were wearing more revealing, glitzy clothing items. The term “flapper” comes from this time period and characterizes energetic, adventurous women with short bobs, more dramatic makeup, and high heels. Clothing also shifted to be less tight-fitting and structured and instead more comfortable. This change in dress also seemed to catalyze a more free approach to sexuality and relationships. This change can also be tied to a less strict adherence to organized religion.

This freedom and easiness went as quickly as it came, changing with the arrival of the Great Depression in 1929.

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The new social trends of the 1920s challenged traditional attitudes in a number of ways.

First, they challenged old attitudes about order and authority.  New values, perhaps brought on by Prohibition, were more tolerant of what would once have been called misbehavior.  It was more acceptable to challenge authority rather than obeying the rules.

Second, they challenged accepted ideas about the social order.  Catholics and Jews were pushing for more of a place in American life.  So were African Americans in Northern cities.  This was a challenge to the old dominance of the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant elite.

Finally, they challenged accepted ideas about the appropriate roles of the sexes and of sexual morality.  Women started to be more assertive about their right to go out in public and do things for fun.  The “flappers” were a good example of this.  They were also a good example of what was perceived to be a challenge to traditional sexual morality.

In all of these ways, the new social trends of the 1920s challenged older, more traditional attitudes.

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