Briefly Reflecting On the ’20s

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Briefly Reflecting On the ’20s

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From bootleggers to flappers, it was an eventful and important decade, that moved America into the modern world. A full 100 years later, we enter the 2020s, and now is a better time than ever to reflect back on the time before us – “The Jazz Age.” 

While such a lively era started off with the introduction of the rather poorly received 18th Amendment, it also saw the right to vote given to women in 1920. In the end, both of these factors contributed to the coming jazz, party, and dance-filled culture of the decade to come. With the fresh new right to vote, women’s roles really began to change in society. Along with this shift was the installment of Prohibition, and the nation was introduced to the appearance of “speakeasies” and bootleggers and mobsters.

Women were now chopping their hair and their hemlines! Along with this, they began to more openly wear cosmetics, smoke cigarettes, and involve themselves more in the entertainment industry — all of which was a bit looked down upon for women at the time. Women had made their way into the factory work industry, which caused many to begin cutting their hair for safety reasons. While it was originally merely a safety precaution, it soon became a cosmetic societal statement. Many young women began deciding to live for not just a husband and children, but for themselves and their own enjoyment — these women were called flappers, and were leaders for many girls in their generation. While they may seem conservative and old-fashioned by today’s standards, they were the very first spark of what we consider the “contemporary woman”- – a woman living of her own accord, involved in the workplace, dressing to her own liking, and living not just for others.

Along with the 19th Amendment, of course, was the 18th. “The Country Goes Dry!” headlines would announce, as America was entering Prohibition, which was the legal ban on all alcohol and would only be appealed 13 years later, in 1933. While many were in favor of the development, in hindsight, it’s safe to say it wasn’t very well received by the majority in its respective time. With Prohibition, “speakeasies” began sprouting up on every big city street corner. Speakeasies were illegal and secretive bars–you even had to give a password to get in. Along with this rebellion, bootleggers began making big business off the new illegal, and highly valuable trade. Bootleggers were people who would sell illicit illegal goods, and in the 20s, those goods were alcohol. One of the most famous of these bootleggers was Al Capone, who lived a dangerous, and often romanticized, life of crime, police chases, and shootouts. Capone’s gang was said to have brought in $100 million annually. 

Of course, flappers and bootleggers weren’t the only part of the 20s that were notable. Born in the lively New Orleans, jazz absolutely skyrocketed. With Broadway’s growing success, and the nation’s new fascination with radio, it was the perfect environment for the jazz craze to bloom and soon it was the “bees’ knees.” As the new music fad took the nation by storm, some stars of the industry stood out and are still beloved household names today, such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. 

The decade was full of swing dance, Broadway, radio, jazz, flappers, and gangsters, and for a while, everyone assumed the party would never end. Men were becoming millionaires overnight investing in the stock market, but on October 24, 1929 – “Black Tuesday” – the stock market crashed. Many people lost everything they had, and after it was officially announced to the public, many went home and killed themselves. It was a bleak ending to such a bright, carefree decade, and was the start of The Great Depression in the 30s. 

It’s hard to properly reflect on decades past, and even harder to try and apply it now 100 years later. I think the most important takeaway, and ways we should apply it now is through understanding the cultural, technological, and societal advances the 1920s managed to make. It was women’s first look at some independence, the culture that created the jazz age, and the advancements in telephones, radio, and television and the sense of fascination and community that came with it. Despite the dark ending, what we should take away is to keep moving forward and pushing ourselves further into the future.