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Learn About the 1920s

The 1920s was a decade of exciting social changes and profound cultural conflicts. For many Americans, the growth of cities, the rise of a consumer culture, and the so-called "revolution in morals and manners" represented a liberation from the restrictions of the country's Victorian past. But for others, the United States seemed to be changing in undesirable ways. The result was a thinly veiled "cultural civil war," in which a pluralistic society classed bitterly over such issues as foreign immigration, evolution, the Ku Klux Klan, and race.

The 1920s is commonly thought of as a hedonistic interlude between the Great War and the Great Depression, a decade of dissipation, of jazz bands, raccoon coats, bathtub gin, flappers, flagpole sitters, bootleggers, and marathon dancers. According to this view, World War I had shattered Americans' faith in reform and moral crusade, and the younger generation proceeded to rebel against traditional taboos while their elders engaged in an orgy of speculation.

In fact the decade was both a decade of bitter cultural tensions as well as a period in which many of the features of a modern consumer society took root.

Recordings from the 1920 presidential election
To learn more

Handouts and fact sheets:

Controversies of the 1920s

Recommended lesson plan:

1920s Consumer Culture


Test Your Knowledge About the 1920s

Recommended books:

Stanley Coben, Rebellion Against Victorianism
An analysis of the social and intellectual transformation during the 1920s.

Ellis W. Hawley, The Great War and the Search for Modern Order
A highly readable interpretation of the period.

Recommended film:

Clara Bow’s vivaciousness helped define the new woman of the 1920s. This film tells the story of a shop clerk who wins the heart of her rich employer because she has “it”: "that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force."
learn more film

Recommended Website:

Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929
Library of Congress materials from the 1920s that document the widespread prosperity of the Coolidge years, the nation's transition to a mass consumer economy, and the role of government in this transition.


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