The sound of bullets abroad ended, but the ring of change in America blasted as large as a bullet. As the Great War ended, change manifested America and it was never to be the same. With a stock market boom, consolidation of businesses, and an increase in buying power, American life became modernized. The automobile was introduced as it ushered in a new era of society and increased freedom. Family pressures diminished as children began to explore the world as their own through being a flapper, dancing to jazz, or living the glamorous life that authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald idolized in the twenties. These changes did not arrive without a continuous longing for a prewar era of control, laissez faire government, and a sense of normalcy. These tensions were manifested in ideas like the Red Scare and the prohibition.
Although change survived, the difference in ideas between old and new ways created tensions within American society that was eventually manifested to form a new, modernized culture. From the new advances in technology and in business (1), a new culture of youth usurped the traditional voice of society and questioned the roles thrust upon them (2), but it also created a racist and nativist country (3). In post WWI, the technology in American homes became more advanced due to the modernization of America’s economy and business. After a recession that began in the twenties, the stock market boomed, reflecting the growing prosperity of America (EV 712). In the pre WWI era, laissez faire capitalism and the support of big business was how the government ran the economy. Throughout the war, the government intervened in the economy, doing away with big business, and enlarged their presence to the delight of reformers.
There was an increase in strikes from workers asking for higher tariffs. After the war, the government imposed high tariffs such as the Fordney-McCumber Tariff and Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which were enacted to protect growing business and prosperity of domestic manufacturers (EV 713). They also encouraged the consolidation of big businesses, and even if companies did not merge, the companies cooperated in price fixes and markets (EV 714). Because of the given protection and consolidation, businesses were able to create mass produced goods and lower the prices of their goods to sell to their consumers which was defined by one word: Fordism (EV 714). The methods provided luxuries that past generations were unable to obtain as they decreased production time, cost, and created leisure time. The companies, led by Henry Ford, began to increase the pay of their workers (EV 714). This increased pay led to greater buying power of the workers who were also the consumers (Doc E).
Strikes decreased and unions, like the AFL and the IWW, declined in membership because of the pay increase, inability to cope with new manufacturing abilities, and the desire of management to use ways like the “American Plan” to destroy unions (EV 716). From the pay raise and continuous decline of prices and manufacturing, the technology increased. The greatest achievement of the twenties that was manifested from the new business system was the automobile. Led by Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, the automobile led the way in changing America (EV 712). The new, affordable invention created a new America by giving the youth independence while bringing families together (EV 721). Cars created an easier way to get around, creating a more modern society (Doc F). It embodied the change in America as an offspring of the tensions from big businesses as society realized it needed this new version of buying on credit, merging businesses, and leisure time to sustain a contemporary culture and technology.
The technology adapted in this era fell away from the idea of all work and no play as workers were now able to escape their feeble lives through conveniences, like movies, radios, and television. Through this new technology and advancement in business, Americans broke from traditional ideas and changed into a new and modern culture. Societal changes between youth, women, and culture emerged in the post WWI era. The children and teenagers of the era before the war were ignored and restricted. They lived a Victorian lifestyle that meant that they were seen, but not heard. As the war emerged, the youth felt they had reached adulthood much faster than their parents due to the responsibility that was thrust upon them (Dear Parents).
This shocked the older generation because of the activities that the younger generation enjoyed. With an increase in entertainment, movies and music, the youth broke traditional ties. The old tradition was to court someone that was appropriate to marry; the new idea was to date with no intention of marriage. Things like petting and necking became mainstream, and the youth became much more open about their sexual lives, a topic condemned before the war (Doc. B). In addition to the youth, women made a more prominent role in society. Women began to break away from ideas of separate spheres during the war. Before the war, women were meant to fulfil their motherly duties by teaching others the good and bad of society, like smoking (Doc. J).
But during the war, women stepped up and replaced the men in the jobs they left vacant. As they took men’s jobs and roles in society, they established a greater confidence in themselves. This confidence allowed them to stand up to men and led to an increase in divorce rates (Doc. K). Their heightened presence in the workforce made it an excellent time to increase their political might. Organizations like National American Woman Suffrage Association and Woman’s Party fought for the right to vote (EV 658). The 19th amendment was enacted in 1920 allowing women the right to vote which gave women the chance to voice their opinions and establish independence (EV 673). With their increased political influence, women increased their educational standards. More women started going to college, becoming more liberal and breaking traditional ties (Doc. D). Through the liberal ideas and the haze of post war, the flapper movement emerged. A flapper was a liberal woman who displayed wild fashion and modern ideas (Dear Parents). With all these changes occurring in youth and women, culture began to modernize. The mentality before the war was to make a life before living life (Dear Parents).
The idea was to save money, but as people began to see the lives that were being lost at the front, they started to live their life to the fullest as shown by Lindbergh flying across the Atlantic and putting “ethics” above the desire of money (Doc. I). There was much more leisure time as innovations took over menial jobs. The increase in leisure time caused an increase in entertainment, like the radio and movies (EV 724). Also, family time was a cherished event before the war, but with the emergence of cars, a new sense of freedom emerged (EV 721). With this new sense of freedom, prohibition became a joke. Before the war most of the country, besides immigrants, backed the idea of temperance and a law to stop the consumption and distribution of alcohol. So the 18th amendment was enacted in 1919, which was prohibition (EV 673).
But almost three years after the law was enforced, people began to ignore it. From the beginning the Volstead Act was weakly enforced and underfunded, and New York was the first state to repeal it in 1923 (EV 736). Places like night clubs began to spring up to thwart the act (Doc. A). The rate of intoxication arrests increased (Doc. C) and gangs emerged rivaling to control the liquor business (EV 737). This modernization in culture brought upon the questioning of truth. The traditional view was that God created mankind and everything was based on the Bible. In the 1920s though, advances in science and research was encouraged. People began to believe Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. This created a clash between the old and the new. The people who believed in the biblical ideology called themselves Fundamentalists and wanted to ban the education of evolution in schools. William Jennings Bryan endorsed this cause (Doc. G) and so did fundamentalist Aimee McPherson who encouraged many to join her side through her charisma (Doc. L).
John T. Scopes, a believer in evolution, went against this law and taught evolution to his class. This led to the Scopes Trial which found Scopes guilty, but led to a change in thought and a break from biblical ideas. Through the changes of youth from traditionalism to liberalism, their ideas changed reflected in the rebellion against the prohibition and the change of women’s roles. The idea of control was seen to be diminished as the questioning of ideas once unquestioned, like evolutionary versus biblical, were thrown into the limelight.
These fears of change and control made the society into a contemporary thinking, but led to the nativism and Americanism that prevailed American thought. In the post WWI era, nativist sentiments and racist tendencies were rampant. Up to 1890, immigrants mainly came from the Northern and Western parts of Europe, Americans welcomed them and attempted to help them in the Progressive Era. But, as immigrants started coming from Southern and Eastern Europe and Asia, they didn’t assimilate and the melting pot ideology was ending (Doc. Q). The popular sentiment now was 100% Americanism partially due to major propaganda efforts during the war. These nativists believed that there was sufficient population and immigrants were overcrowding the country (Doc. O).
This popular movement resulted in a shift in the government’s policies to support the people’s wants. The government enacted a quota limit act on May 19, 1921 and an Immigration Act in 1924 which limited the number of aliens of a nationality to 2 percent of the population (Doc. M). Many organizations, like the American Legion, backed the government in their decisions (Doc. N). With the government executing the laws, the Supreme Court enforced them through their cases. The case of Sacco and Vanzetti exhibits the Court’s bias towards nativists(Sacco Vanzetti). More anti-immigrant sentiment was created when the new Bolshevik regime took over in Russia(EV 706). This Russian Revolution caused the Red Scare to take over in America, in which nativists believed Russian-Americans were trying to instill communism in the government(Doc. P) and deported them through the Palmer raids (Red Scare). Along with the immigrants, African Americans were being alienated. After Reconstruction, African Americans were trying to blend in with the whites, but this became difficult because of the Jim Crow laws creating segregation(EV 655). Even as they fought in WWI, the armies were segregated by race(EV 690).
Because of the segregation, African Americans had to create their own identity. With the spread of jazz music (EV 726) and their great migration north for better jobs, the Harlem Renaissance was born in the 1920s (EV 728) which allowed blacks to become confident in themselves and their race (Doc. H). But this confidence did not help their circumstance with the whites as shown through the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, which now targeted blacks and immigrants (EV 734), and the mass race riot of Rosewood (Doc. R). The emergence of the KKK caused people like Marcus Garvey to urge black independence and summon them back to Africa (EV 735).
Immigrants and African Americans were trying to find a home in the nation called the melting pot, yet they were rejected by Americans because of the new sentiment caused by the war. It was through the changes and the tensions in the twenties that changed society through its manifestations. The automobile prevailed as the leader of the changes as it increased the freedom of the youth that lead the change from traditional conservatism to liberalism that affected all branches of society, including the mistreatment of immigrants and minorities. All of these tensions felt within this era manifested in a way to make America brilliantly prosperous and live the legend of the roaring twenties that is always glorified. But it was through these ideas that America would eventually succumb to through a Great Depression.
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