Young Writers Society

Home » Forums » Resources » Research

1920s Culture & Curiosities

User avatar
423 Reviews

Gender: Gendervague he/she/they
Points: 215
Reviews: 423
Sun May 05, 2019 5:31 pm
View Likes
Vervain says...

Hey y'all, resident lurker here posting a general thread looking for info about life in America in the 1920s. It's nearing a century since the Roaring 20s, and I've got some ideas incorporating the culture into updated sci-fi and alternate-world fantasy ideas, but I was looking for some details on the time period and, specifically, how it was interpreted in big cities like NYC, Chicago, Memphis, etc.

I'm doing a bunch of research on my own and will probably drop relevant links and/or tidbits into this thread as well, but this is just going to serve as a conglomerate thread for ideas. If you have any links or information you'd like to add, go ahead!

Much appreciated!
stay off the faerie paths

User avatar
13 Reviews

Gender: Male
Points: 200
Reviews: 13
Sun May 05, 2019 7:36 pm
View Likes
Riellehn says...

Alright, so, the 1920s came shortly after the end of WWI. As with both World Wars, the American economy was booming, and because the American economy was booming, you had two things: The general wealth of the average person increased, and a consumer culture. During the 1920s, a ton of people recklessly invested in the stock market, and the wealth they were acquiring meant that most of them were no longer living on farms, instead moving into cities (consistent with the U.S. having just gotten out of WWI, where they were the industrial country producing the most). However, there was an underlying problem to this new consumer culture; the stock market wasn't really being regulated, and the banks were being regulated even less. Extremely risky loans were being given out, and the banks were saying that they held people's money, when in reality they likely gave it to someone else in a loan. This meant that when the stock market eventually crashed in 1929, and people went to the banks to withdraw money, the banks didn't have any. However, for most of the 1920s, this wasn't a problem. There was a ton of prosperity, people were moving into cities, investing in the stock market

For more cultural things, feminism made great strides with the 19th amendment being ratified in the 1920s. There were also women who defied the common woman stereotype by wearing form fitting clothing, having short hair, and dancing and smoking in public places (these women were called "flappers"). Temperance was also a hallmark of the 1920s, resulting in prohibition (however, alcohol could still be obtained in illegal bars called "speakeasies" and through bootlegging). There was also the "Harlem Renaissance," which introduced a new type of music; jazz.

As a summary, the 1920s economy was prosperous yet risky, and the people were defying traditional moral values (speakeasies and flappers), moving into cities, and adopting a new way of life (consumerism). For cities like NYC and Chicago, they saw many new residents, and of course, Memphis has Jazz.

If you have any more questions, I can do some more research and get back to you..
Can you burn a dragon? No, but a certain Knight has melted my heart ^-^

User avatar
737 Reviews

Gender: None specified
Points: 6058
Reviews: 737
Mon May 06, 2019 4:38 pm
View Likes
CaptainJack says...

I think I am going to split this up quite a bit and put it into neat little spoilers for you. There's a lot that I'm covering in this space and hopefully it will all roll together neatly. And also sorry because it's not in any particular order. I am mainly talking about political matters in this post and then I will add another post later to cover more shifts in culture. And also details about all of those particulars. There is a lot more that I want to talk about but I just can't organize the rest of my thoughts right now.

But for now examine these struggles.

Spoiler! :

A big issue with the early 1920s in America is isolationism. We went to war. Overseas. For alliances that we were not particularly stable in. We were aligned with countries that we hated because of previous issues, and fighting against people we hated a little bit more.

That is a general summary of the Great War.

If people had mixed opinions about entering the Great War in the first place, they certainly had mixed feelings when all of the soldiers came home from the war. So much of culture is focused on the conflict of people who felt differently about the events that had taken place. And then this goes into disagreements on where the country is going to go from this point.

This comes up in literature of the 1920s because this disagreement of society brings the split of how corrupted society has become. [Great Gatsby being the most famous example.] [Also see that time T S Eliot titled his narrative of period culture to be "The Waste Land".]

While the country decided to back away from the rest of the world, they started limiting immigration. This is another key point of the 1920s, especially if you are someone who still has family in your old country and you want to move them to have a better life in the united states. You are probably going to get separated with the limited amount of spaces and it is probably not going to increase your opinion of the united states government.

Isolationism also meant the congress turning down entry into the League of Nations, which meant opening the door right up for World War Two. Not that we're salty or anything. The United States government decided that it didn't want to be that involved in foreign affairs. Being in the League would have required participation in altercations between different countries. And they wanted to get as far away from further foreign conflict as possible.

That just wasn't in the values of the time and that aspect continues to be present in American politics.

Economics Part 1
Spoiler! :

I noticed the previous poster talking a lot of the economics in the front of their post and I was slightly bothered by a few of the details that they had. They had some mentions of issues with absolutely no regulation for the stock market, which went hand in hand in government corruption. And they also mentioned the movement of people from farms to the city due to wealth.

That's the detail that is really bothering me.

The mention of wealth. Because yes it was generally getting better, but people moving from the farms to the cities was more for work, if I am remembering correctly. It was a shift in culture and it was also a shift in the work that was available for the average person. Most people were not profitting that much from the war, if we take even the slightest look at the battle over labor unions.

Also a friendly reminder that labor unions are being viewed as communism during this time period.
That supporting a labor union essentially makes you a communist.
That supporting a labor union and not being an American citizen, even if you are in the country very legally and for legitimate reasons, the government still has the right to deport you based on the fact they think you're dangerous to the American way of life.

Hoover, in his infinite wisdom of wanting to stay aboard the United States government in a task force wrangling people, moved from hunting draft dodgers to hunting anarchists. Working under attorney general Palmer, Hoover became a key figure in the Palmer Raids during [wait for it] the Red Scare.

I like how the Red Scare is often left out of talks about the 1920s. Because obviously it was all a focus on people of high society and dance clubs. You're not going to notice the people who get arrested for wanting to have worker's rights because the United States government believes they are communists. And that these communists have come to the Land of lIberty to destroy their way of life and eliminate capitalism from the face of the Earth.

One of my favorite quotes from my textbook being:
One man in New Jersey was arrested for "looking like a radical."

Yeah so great time to be alive.

I mention all of this because it wasn't the best time for trusting the government. All of these raids conducted by the people in the government, who would eventually become FBI and CIA members, arrested these people in violation of the Constitution. They knew they were violating constitutional rights and went forward with it anyways.

There was so much fear in the public, from the people who thought the "reds" were invading and from the people who happened to have those political views. No one knew what was happening and they had to live in the terror of not knowing what the government was going to decide next.

Labor union attempts were not going particularly well with violence against the strikers and riots against their existence. While in the current american climate there is discourse over the power of labor unions, they just didn't exist at this point in time. And worker's rights? "Lol what are those?"

More of that below though.

Demobilization to Labor Unions
Spoiler! :

Three important phrases to note here:
- government budget cut causes American depression
- price inflation
- demobilization

The depression that came from the government budget cuts was not quite as bad the Great Depression but it also lasted over 2 years. And just so much damage.

Demobilization: the period after an armed conflict when soldiers are sent home and industries reduce or halt their production of war materials

During the war, manufacturing did pick up. We were selling weapons to other countries and then had to supply them for our own use. This did bring in more money to the economy but once the war is resolved, there is no longer such a big need for so many workers.

When you go to war time manufacturing, civilian products take a back seat and weapons, munitions, necessary textiles, and the assorted other needs of the military, are all brought to the forefront. There is an increased need for more workers, more than are needed in peacetime because the country has one goal - to win.

So when the soldiers come back from the war, they are met with quite a few problems in jobs. One is that there are no longer enough jobs to cover everyone. Another is the fact that due to price inflation and damages of the war, their wages are no longer enough to cover their needs. Even with multiple people in a household working it is still not going to be enough.

That is that struggle.

But what about the struggle of the workers already in trouble from demobilization? There are going to be the folks whose jobs are cut but what about the ones who are working to get better treatment?

Workers go on strike during this period partially because of the trouble that comes with changing the industry back to peace time operations. I can look up the specific figures but I think the big strike that happens right before we roll around to 1920 is somewhere near 5 million? So that is a pretty big percentage of the workers in the United States at this time calling for labor unions.

Little bit concerning isn't it?

So yes, while some people were getting richer. Some people in those positions of power and there were some people who managed to climb the ladder, it still wasn't that many people. The reasons that people became more comfortable purchasing non-essenital commodities was issues in financing and the beginning of marketing campaigns that took advantage of human weakness.

I will note one of my favorite cases.
Sacco and Vanzetti
Spoiler! :

Sacco and Vanzetti were anarchists.
And they were tried with murder.
In 1920.
And when were they exectuted?
In 1927.

That's what makes their placement in this big, long post of mine justified. The appeals to bring these two people off the electric chair stretched across almost the entire decade. That was how committed these supporters were. The supporters who were people in their circles, the people who lifted these two guys up as symbols of the cause, and people who believed that this conviction was wrong.

I learned a lot about this case in the aftermath because they had so many supporters in Ybor City. It has a big impact on the culture because people literally went on strike in the names of Sacco and Vanzetti.

User avatar
556 Reviews

Gender: None specified
Points: 29220
Reviews: 556
Wed May 15, 2019 9:48 pm
Tenyo says...

CrashCourse did an episode on the Roaring 20s. I haven't watched this one specifically but they videos in general tend to be wonderfully concise whilst still giving a decent overall feel for the topic.
We were born to be amazing.

He who knows only his own generation remains forever a child.
— Cicero