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The 1920s and Reform

No longer concerned with WWI and unaware of the looming depression, the 1920’s was a time of prosperity, extravagance, and opulence. Having just witnessed the Great War, people realized it was their time to enjoy life because there was no telling what the future held. Reform movements that had begun in the Progressive Era, but were put on hold during WWI, were once again reinstated. The 1920s was a rollercoaster decade that saw many great and not-so great changes and reforms take place in the United States. The Roaring 20s led to the rejection of Victorian Ideals that had never before been questioned. It thankfully brought on the Women's Suffrage Movement, which ultimately led to their suffrage. Another change that ensued from the carefree decade was the Temperance Movements and Prohibition. But, with the increased wealth and desire to live life, these movements brought on a change in the social scene- which involved bootlegging and organized crime. All of these changes were, however, coupled with a backlash from people who resisted change and longed for “the good old days”, such as William Jennings Bryan- the prosecutor in the Scope's Trial. Attitudes and reform movements centered on immigration, Prohibition, woman’s rights, and the fundamental response to science and religion were some examples of reform in the 1920s.

The Roaring 20’s was a carefree time when hem lines were raised and laws were openly broken. It serves as a very good demonstration of a time in America when religion and reform were thrown to the wind. The conservative Victorian lifestyle was the norm prior to the 20’s, and the decade following the Great War was the rejection of these ideals. The Scope’s Trial (Courtney) was an example of the people question and denying these ideals that had never before been questioned. One of the main outcomes of this rejection is the freedom of women to leave the kitchens and enter the bars. This change in attitude, with time, led to the Women’s Suffrage Movement (Emma). Furthermore, the booming economy led people to be less thrifty with their money. And the end of the war made people realize that life is short. The message of the decade was to live life to the fullest. The combination of these 2 points led to the extravagant lifestyle of the emerging Flappers and alcohol bootleggers rejecting the Temperance Movement and Prohibition (Shivani). The 20’s were a time in Modern US History when adultery and scandal were high and morals were low. Religion and reform was addressed but not embraced.

In the summer of 1925, in Dayton Tennessee, John Scopes, a high school biology teacher, was put on trial for illegally teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic candidate for President and a populist, successfully championed the views of fundamentalist groups trying to banish Darwin's theory of evolution from American classrooms. Clarence Darrow represented the defense. The Scope's "Monkey" Trial is a primary example of the changing ideas and the resisting attitudes that surrounded the 1920s. Contrasting views on the new theory of evolution versus the older idea of intelligent design allowed for discussion and change in society. Strict belief in the Bible was brought into question, while new scientific and intellectual advancements were introduced to the public.

The 1920s were called “roaring” for a reason, for they were full of progressive and nouveau ideas that took full force during that decade; on January 16, 1920 the 18th Amendment declared the eradication of one of the most common habits of Americans. The importing, exporting, transporting, selling, and manufacturing of intoxicating liquor was put to an end. Soon after the 18th Amendment, the Volstead Act was enacted. This determined intoxicating liquor as anything having an alcoholic content of anything more than 0.5 percent, omitting alcohol used for medicinal and sacramental purposes. In essence, Prohibition was meant to reduce the consumption of alcohol for it was seen by many as the devil’s drink. By outlawing it altogether, certain Americans felt that it would reduce crime, poverty, death rates and improve the economy and overall quality of life.

August 24th, 1920 represents a life-changing day for all female citizens of the United States. It was on this date that Congress finally passed the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote. Female activists had been publicly fighting for equal rights since the middle of the 19th century and finally after much hard work women earned what they had deserved all along. The women’s suffrage movement is an important example of reform that occurred during the 20th century. It shows a targeted group of society taking charge and fighting for a necessary change in order to make America the nation it was meant to be.

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Page last modified on April 20, 2007, at 08:25 PM