<Standard USII.9 .........................................................................................................Standard USII.11>

Describe how the battle between traditionalism and modernity manifested itself in the major historical trends and events after World War I and throughout the 1920s.

Topics on the Page

Image by Chris Munch
Image by Chris Munch

Overview of The Roaring Twenties


  • Prohibition and Music Lesson Plan

The Harlem Renaissance

Women's Roles

Women's Suffrage

  • Harry T. Burn and the Ratification of the 19th Amendment in Tennessee

The Scopes Trial

The First Red Scare

The Rise of the Automobile

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Focus Question: How did traditionalism and modernity interact throughout the 1920s?

Map_of_USA_MA.svg.pngSee also AP United States History 19 for more on the 1920s.

Cover of the 1922 Edition of Tales of the Jazz Age
Cover of the 1922 Edition of Tales of the Jazz Age


In the aftermath of World War I, many Americans desired to return to a state of "normalcy ." More than ever, many Americans clung to their traditions in the hopes of restoring their pre-WWI societies. Part of this trend was a fear of the "unknown," from groups like immigrants, minorities, radicals to new scientific discoveries. Yet America was facing it's strongest economy ever, thus a rapidly modernizing society. Therefore, there developed a conflict between those would cling to religion, racism and nostalgic perceptions of the past and those who were engaging in cultural change.

primary_sources.PNGClick here for Warren G. Harding's 1920 "Return to Normalcy" speech in Boston.

The "Roaring Twenties"

The term "Roaring Twenties" is used to describe this period of social change, characterized by Jazz music, carefree consumer behavior and bathtub gin.

Visit "Clash of Cultures" which contains sections on Prohibition, The New Women, the Scopes Trial, Anti-Immigration and the KKK.


game_icon.svg.pngClick here for a game on the Roaring Twenties.
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Multimedia.pngClick here for a 15 minute video on the Roaring Twenties.
See here for a "Crash Course" video on the Roaring 20s


Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol, 1921
Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol, 1921

In 1919, the United States passed the 18th Amendment prohibiting the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol.

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.31.08 AM.pngSee also Prohibition Era Songs of Reform Lesson Plan

Ken Burns' Prohibition trailer on YouTube
  • Click here for a picture gallery on Prohibition from the Discovery Channel.
    • Click here for the website "The Lawless Decade". Companion site to the book by Paul Sann. A pictorial history of the time.
      • Click here for a short video overview of Prohibition from the History Channel.

Click here for People of the Prohibition

For a brief overview of the topic, see Unintended Consequences by Michael Lerner from the Ken Burns Prohibition website.

external image 200px-Paperback_book_black_gal.svg.pngThe history of Prohibition is discussed in Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent (Scribner, 2010). Among the key points presented in the book:
  • Alcohol was the nation's fifth largest industry at the time.
    • Advocates of prohibition were known as “drys.” They appealed to white Protestant morals, arguing that alcohol consumption led to sinful behavior (such as promiscuity).
      • The Anti-Saloon League was a major force in American politics from 1893 to 1933. Through both printed word and lobbying, the League turned its moral crusade against alcohol into a fight for a Constitutional amendment.
  • A unique combination of organizations and individuals supported prohibition: "Simply put, racism, progressivism, populism, suffragism, and nativism spiked with a pungent dose of anti-popery" ("When America went on the wagon," Katherine A Powers, Boston Sunday Globe, K7).
  • American entry into World War I was decisive factor because it created a wave of anti-German hysteria, some of which was directed toward brewing companies owned by individuals of German origin.
    • The 16th Amendment(1913) that established the graduated income tax gave the federal government a means to make up for the lost of revenue that Prohibition would create by eliminating the tariff on alcohol.

primary_sources.PNGThe Volstead Act and Related Prohibition Documents

"Pot Still Diagram" by Redrex
"Pot Still Diagram" by Redrex

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.31.08 AM.pngClick here to view a lesson plan on Prohibition from Stanford History Group.

Though it slowed a bit, consumption of alcohol in the United States did not stop.
  • On the contrary, Prohibition served to create an underground culture of illegal liquor production and consumption.
    • The ban also corresponded with a rise in organized crime , as mobsters took great advantage of the growing underground network.
      • The city of Detroit had more than 20,000 speakeasies, one for about every 30 adults, and illegal alcohol was the city's second-largest industry, next to auto manufacturing.

Image below shows "Woman's Holy War. Grand Charge on the Enemy's Works." Political Cartoon, 1874
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As historian David Oshinsky noted in "Temperance to Excess" (The New York Times Book Review, May 23, 2010, p. 20), the "accompanying laws. meanwhile, provided enough loopholes to guarantee failure. Sacramental wine was permitted, allowing fake clergymen to lead bogus congregants in non-religious romps. Farmers who fermented their own cider and "fruit juices" were given special exemptions. . . . Doctors, dentists, and even veterinarians were free to write prescriptions for remedies like "Richardson's Concentrated Sherry Wine Bitters," which contained 47.5 percent alcohol (95 proof). In the 20s, Charles Walgreen expanded his drugstore chain from 20 stores to an astounding 525—a spurt ludicrously attributed to his introduction of the milkshake."

Female_Rose.pngThe Temperance movement was strongly linked with the Women's movement in the United States.
  • Alcohol was directly linked to domestic abuse, health problems, poverty and other issues that directly affected women.

The Women's Christian Temperance Union organized women in their fight against alcohol.

Carrie Nation was one of the boldest figures to come out of the Temperance movement: the 6-foot-tall woman was well-known for attacking places that sold alcohol with a hatchet.
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for an expanded biography of Carrie Nation.
Multimedia.pngClick here for a video on Carrie Nation.

Bootleggers: people producing and selling alcohol illegally (learn the origin ). Speakeasies: illegal, underground bars (learn the origin )

primary_sources.PNGVisit here for the 18th Amendment and other related documents leading to Prohibition.

external image Music_notation.pngProhibition and Music

See Ken Burns Prohibition film website for an overview of music in 1920s, including the songs Prohibition Ramble and Prohibition Bounce

For a more background and context, see Paramount Records: The Label Inadvertently Crucial to the Blues, from NPR (November 2, 2013).

Bert Williams, 1896
Bert Williams, 1896
Music Protesting Prohibition

In 1919, Irving Berlin wrote the song Prohibition to protest the nation's ban on alcohol.

  • Song: The Moon Shines on the Moonshine from the Library of Congress National Jukebox.
    • The song was performed by Bert Williams in the Ziegfield Follies of 1919.
      • Bert Williams was the largest selling Black singer before 1920 and the first African American to record for a major record company. Go here for the song on YouTube.

Music Favoring Prohibition and Temperance

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Harlem Renaissance & The Jazz Age

Rotating_globe-small.gifAccording to Paul Reuben of the Perspectives in American Literature website, the "Harlem Renaissance (HR) is the name given to the period from the end of World War I and through the middle of the 1930s Depression, during which a group of talented African-American writers produced a sizable body of literature in the four prominent genres of poetry, fiction, drama, and essay."

A lesson plan on the Harlem Renaissance can be found here.

Influential Figures of the Harlem Renaissance include:
  1. See a Crash Course Video on Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance

Multimedia.pngClick here for The Harlem Renaissance a multimedia website from John Carroll University focusing on education, social reform, entertainers, literature, politics, religion and philosophy of the time.

Click here for a quizlet vocab set on the Harlem Renaissance and the Roaring Twenties.

Click here for a Guide to Harlem Renaissance Materials from the Library of Congress.

See here to watch a CSPAN talk on the Harlem Renaissance with Emily Bernard

Changing Roles for Women

Stylish flapper girl smoking a cigarette
Stylish flapper girl smoking a cigarette

Female_Rose.pngWorld War I required the young, male labor force of the United States to enlist in the armed forces, requiring women to take up many traditionally male jobs.
  • This factor undoubtedly shaped the way women saw themselves and the way that society viewed women.
    • Although many women returned to the home when American men returned from war, the fact that women left their homes and successfully filled male roles left a lasting impact on society.

This Harvard collection contains a wide array of primary sources documenting the role of women in the American economy from 1800-1930.


  • Perhaps the most well-known icon of this era is the "flapper girl:" a new type of modern woman who participated in what many considered to be unladylike behavior.
    • The flapper wore shapeless dresses and a short haircut, drank (even during Prohibition), smoked and treated sex casually.
      • This rejection of social norms shocked society, particularly those groups and individuals fighting for tradition.

1917 plitical cartoon about female suffrage
1917 plitical cartoon about female suffrage
Women's Suffrage (For more on women's activism, see USII.9)

In 1920, the United States ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. This was achieved after almost a century of hard-fought battles by passionate women and their male allies.
Female_Rose.pngVisit here for a summary of the legal fight for the amendment.

"Don't Forget to be a Good.Boy". Harry T. Burn's Letter from Mom and the Ratification of the 19th Amendment in Tennessee

Link to The Vote That Led to the 19th Amendment

primary_sources.PNGVisit here for the National Archives image of the amendment (as well as related teaching materials).

It is important to note that the effects of the 19th Amendment were not immediately felt, but that the women's movements in the 1920s laid the foundation for social change in the following decades.

Click here to learn more about women's activism and the Progressive Movement.
Multimedia.pngFor a video on women's suffrage click here.

multicultural.pngTo learn more about Suffrage from the perspective of women of color click here and click here to read about how "Racism Tainted Women's Suffrage"

primary_sources.PNGFor a lesson plan on how to approach the subject of race and the temperance movement click here and for more comprehensive and general resources on how to approach race in the classroom click herehere

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See Bessie Coleman Historical Biography page

The Scopes Trial and the Debate Over Charles Darwin’s Origins of Species

Anti-Evolution League at the Scopes Trial
Anti-Evolution League at the Scopes Trial

rotating gif.gifFor more on Charles Darwin, see Grade 7.1 and Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution

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primary_sources.PNGDocuments and Teaching Materials on the Scopes Trialfrom the National History Education Clearinghouse.
  • See more documents from the Scope Trial at the Famous Trials in American History website.

game_icon.svg.pngPlay the game, Who Wants to Live a Million Years? that explores Darwin's theory of natural selection.

John R. Neal, Jr. & John T. Scopes, at Scopes Trial,1925
John R. Neal, Jr. & John T. Scopes, at Scopes Trial,1925

During the 1920’s, White Protestant Fundamentalists spent much of their energy combating Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
  • Darwin’s now famous book Origin of the Species argues that human beings evolved from a lower species. Darwin’s theory is called evolution.
  • Christian Fundamentalists disagree with the theory because it contradicts a literal interpretation of the Biblical story of Creationism.

In 1914, public high school textbooks stared to include the theory of evolution.
  • Christian fundamentalists were outraged at the teaching of evolution in public schools and started to push state legislatures to adopt anti-evolution legislation.
  • In 1923, the first laws that banned the teaching of evolution were passed.

In 1925, Tennessee passed the Butler Act, which outlawed the teaching of evolution.
  • In 1925, the Scopes Trial took place in Dayton, TN. A teacher was prosecuted for violating the Butler Act and teaching about evolution in a public school.
  • The lawyer for the defense was Clarence Darrow. The lawyer for the prosecution was William Jennings Bryan.
  • The teacher was convicted of violating the Butler Act. The trial became more than just a criminal trial but rather a showcase for the evolution vs. creationism debate.
  • The Defense appealed to the Supreme Court and argued that the Butler Act violated free speech and separation of Church and State. The Court disagreed. Anti-evolution statutes were upheld and continued to exist until 1968.

primary_sources.PNGClick here to read Clarence Darrow's Examination of William Jennings Bryan
  • For more information on Clarence Darrow, including his own personal account of the Trial, see his autobiography The Story of my Life available through Project Gutenberg.

Multimedia.pngFor more on the Scopes Trial, including a video on the issues, go to the PBS Online Web site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/08/2/l_082_01.htm

podcast icon.pngTo read and hear a podcast of Charles Darwin's On the Origins of Species summarized and updated by geneticist Steve Jones in New Scientist Magazine.

primary_sources.PNGTennessee v. John Scopes (1925)
Spencer Tracy &  Fredric March
Spencer Tracy & Fredric March

Multimedia.pngThe 1960s film, Inherit the Wind dramatized the central arguments at the center of the Scopes-Monkey Trial.

primary_sources.PNGClick here for an overview and resources on the Scopes Trial

Xenophobia and the Red Scare

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The xenophobia of the 1920’s led to anti-immigrant legislation.
  • In 1924 the National Origins Act was passed.
  • This act restricted immigration drastically – annual quotas were set at 2% of the ethnicities population in the U.S. at the time of the 1890 census.
  • Congress chose the 1890 census as the basis because as of 1890 not many Italians and Eastern Europeans had immigrated to the U.S.

Link to The Trial of Sacco & Vanzetti

First Red Scare

  • After the World War I, the U.S. government sought to purge American society of communists and communist ideology. The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia caused a major fear of communism or anything that resembled efforts to redistribute power and wealth.
  • The period between 1919 and 1920, is know as the first Red Scare because it was dominated by hyper fears of communism (communists are associated with the color red).

The Palmer Raids

  • Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer played a critical role in carrying out the government’s anti-communist policies. He was convinced that communists were plotting to kill leading politicians and capitalists.
    • He cracked down on communists and immigrants by raiding their headquarters and social clubs – these were called the Palmer Raids. As many as 6,000 suspects were arrested and detained without being formally charged.
      • Palmer predicted that on May 1st, Socialist Labor day, there would be major demonstrations that would lead to revolution. When this did not happen, Palmer lost favor with the public, thus helping to bring a close to the first Red Scare.

primary_sources.PNGFor more, see The Palmer Raids with links to key primary sources
external image Portrait_Emma_Goldman.jpg

Female_Rose.pngEmma Goldman

Following the Palmer raids, several hundred immigrants who were thought to be communists were shipped to Russia on a boat known as the “Soviet Ark.”
  • Emma Goldman, a prominent anarchist, was one of the people deported to Russia. This link includes the entire text of her book, Anarchism and Other Essays.
    • Click here for interactive resources on Emma Goldman from PBS.

book.pngAnarchism and Other Essays (1910)

masscities.pngThe Boston Police Strike of 1919

Image to the right shows Governor and future president Calvin Coolidge inspecting troops during the Boston Police Strike.

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Background Information
In 1919, 1,117 officers of the Boston Police force (made up of 1,544 men) went on strike. The police officers wanted better pay, shorter hours, and better working conditions.
  • They were being paid only $1,100 a year, which was about half of what war workers had been earning. They also had to buy their own uniforms with their pay.
    • They worked 10-13 hour shifts and 13 out of 14 days. Police stations were old, crowded, and dirty.
      • In an effort to demand improvements, the police wanted to form a union, just as the Boston fire fighters had done.

The Police Commissioner, Edwin U. Curtis issued an order that "no members of the force shall join or belong to any organization, club, or body outside the department."
  • However, the American Federation of Labor granted a charter to the police, creating the Boston Police Union.
    • Curtis had the leaders placed on departmental trial and appoints a citizens committee to review the actions of the police. Neither Curtis or Mayor Andrew Peters will negotiate with the police men. Not only because of the union activity, but also because many of the men were Irish Catholic.
  • When the officers went on strike, there was hardly any police force left to protect the citizens of Boston. There was mob violence and finally Governor Calvin Coolidge sent in the Massachusetts militia to break up the strike and put an end to the mob violence.
    • After the strike ended, none of the striking policemen were hired back to their old positions. Instead, new officers were hired at $1,400 a year and given additional holidays and new uniforms (which they did not have to pay for).
      • Coolidge justified not giving the striking officers their jobs back by saying, "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time." Cracking down on the strike benefited Coolidge and propelled him to the Vice Presidential nomination.

For connections to the Red Scare, see the Boston Police Strike.

See also, Russell, Francis The Strike That Made a President from AmericanHeritage.com Web site.

Rotating_globe-small.gifRacial and ethnic tensions during the 1920’s made life difficult for African-Americans and immigrants. The KKK had become a major force in politics. There is a misperception that the Klan was mainly active in the South during reconstruction. However, at that point they had to be a secret society. In the 1920s they took on a much more public role. For example, in 1922 Oregon elected a Klansman – Walter M. Pierce - to the governorship.
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Post-war Prosperity and the Rise of the Automobile

  • World War I stimulated development and investments in new technologies that would lead to the business boom of the 1920.
  • For more on the impact of the automobile on American society, see the following:

1914 Ford Model T
1914 Ford Model T

Henry Ford: Innovators from PBS

Driving Force: Henry Ford from Time Magazine, December 7, 1998.

Who Invented the Automobile? from Everyday Mysteries from the Library of Congress.

Automotive History from the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

America on the Move, transportation history from before 1876 to the present from the National Museum of American History.

The Lincoln Highway, 1920
The Lincoln Highway, 1920

Henry Ford was able to take the technology used to make a car and bring it to the public.
  • Ford used the assembly line to increase productivity.
    • He paid his workers $5 a day when the average was $2 to increase productivity.
  • During the 1920s, automobile registrations increased from 8 million registrations at the beginning of the decade to 23 million by the end.
  • The increase in the automobile industry also helped other industries grow.
    • The rubber, steel, and oil industries flourished.
    • Thousands of jobs were created making highways, especially after the Federal Highway Act of 1921.
    • Gas stations began to line the roads, as did motels and diners for the travelers.
    • The growth of the auto industry also lead to the decline of the railroad system.
  • The auto industry growth also had effects on social aspects of life.
    • Families began to travel on vacations and people could travel farther for goods and employment. However, there were more traffic jams and concerns about safety regulations as the industry grew.
    • Click here and here for more information.

Karl and Bertha Benz in a Benz Victoria, 1894
Karl and Bertha Benz in a Benz Victoria, 1894

Question: Who Invented the Automobile? Answer: Carl Benz from Smithsonian's Everyday Mysteries.

timeline2_rus.svg.pngThe History of Automobile provides an overview and timeline of the growth of car industry and automobile culture.

The Lincoln Highway was the first continuous roadway from the Atlantic to Pacific coasts.

Multimedia.pngClick here for Americans on the Move, a website on Americans and the development of the auto industry

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngA Timeline of the Ford Motor Company from PBS.

For More Information:

Explore the Sinking of The Titanic for information about its impact on people's thinking about technology.

Schoenherr, Steve Red Scare 1919. Retrieved April 26, 2007, from Steve Schoenherr Home Page Web site: http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/ww1/1919b.htm

South Dakota Department of Education, Retrieved April 26, 2007, from The 1920's Web site: http://doe.sd.gov/octa/ddn4learning/themeunits/1920s/general.htm

Boston Police Officers Strike. Retrieved March 26th, 2008 from:

Red Scare. Retrieved March 26th, 2008 from: http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1343.html

Sacco and Vanzetti. Retrieved March 26th, 2008 from: http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1397.html