1920 – 1948 Confidence and Crises Jazz Age

Key Ideas

1. Women exercised their newfound political and economic opportunities, shaping American society and consumer culture.

2. Mass production and expanding media allowed women of diverse backgrounds to access new styles and activities that were dramatically different from those of their mothers’ generations.

3. Although the 1920s saw rapid change, marriage, motherhood, and domestic life remained the main focus for most women, regardless of background.

4. The Nineteenth Amendment marked the end of a period of intense – and often unified – social activism. While women continued to fight for social and political change, activists divided across issues.

Introduction

Young women at outdoor sports event. Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

The Jazz Age

The 1920s began with one of the greatest moments in American women’s history: the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

After decades of activism, national women’s suffrage was enshrined in the Constitution. As the new decade began, the question became, “now what?”

But voting and activism were not the only forces at play in women’s lives. Industrialization, migration, urbanization, and immigration had already changed the country. Mass media, marketing, and production gave women of diverse economic backgrounds access to the latest styles and fashions. Changing social morals empowered young women to not only dress like, but also behave like “modern” Americans.

For more information about women’s roles in the cultural shifts of the 1920s, watch the video below.

This video is from “Women Have Always Worked,” a free massive open online course produced in collaboration with Columbia University.

Section Essential Questions

1. To what extent did the 19th Amendment change American life?

2. How did industrialization, urbanization, and mass production shape a new modern American womanhood?

3. How did the Harlem Renaissance reflect the challenges and opportunities experienced by the African American community?

4. How did American women across diverse backgrounds use work, education, and other opportunities to expand women’s roles outside the home?

Resources

A pair of posters encouraging women to vote.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
activism, voting, Black experiences, Jim Crow, politics & government
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The Equal Rights Amendment, presented to Congress in 1923, and a broadside by the National Woman’s Party arguing in favor of the Amendment.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
activism, voting, politics & government, civil rights
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Photographs of young women embracing 1920s beauty culture and style.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Black experiences, Latinx experiences, entertainment & media, consumer culture, Native people, daily life
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Covers of Life magazine depicting flappers enjoying the newfound freedoms of the 1920s.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
entertainment & media, consumer culture, fashion, daily life, education, marriage & family
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Charts used in a scientific study of farm housewives in Oregon in 1928.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
daily life, motherhood, public & personal health, marriage & family, science & technology
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Three photographs that document the experience of black women and girls migrating from the rural South to Chicago.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Great Migration, Jim Crow, work, Black experiences, daily life, motherhood, marriage & family, race & racism
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A manifesto published by the Women of the Ku Klux Klan.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Jim Crow, Great Migration, immigration, race & racism, activism
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Life Stories

The story of a black writer and anthropologist who committed her career to studying and celebrating African American folklore and culture.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Great Migration, race & racism, social sciences & anthropology, Black experiences, Harlem Renaissance, Jim Crow, art & culture, work
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The story of a blues singer who was born into poverty and became one of the highest paid black performers in America.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
art & culture, entertainment & media, Black experiences, Great Migration, race & racism, work, Harlem Renaissance
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The story of a working mother, songwriter, and labor activist who was murdered for her involvement in the Gastonia Textile Strike.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
activism, marriage & family, motherhood, organized labor, social reform, work, entertainment & media
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The story of a Chinese American woman who achieved international fame as a film actor despite racism and stereotyping.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
entertainment & media, work, Asian American experiences, race & racism
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The story of a daughter of immigrants who became one of the most famous athletes in the world.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
entertainment & media, fashion, work, public & personal health
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The story of the highest-ranking woman in the federal government who used her intellect and her network to enforce Prohibition and reform the prison system.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Prohibition, social reform, work, politics & government, entertainment & media, law & legal status
Go to Resource