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The Roaring Twenties

November 30th, 2019 · No Comments · Books, City Library, Main Branch, News, West Branch

They Say History Repeats Itself

There are now less than 40 days left in the 2010s as we near the 2020s, so perhaps now is a good time to take a moment to reflect on the infamous 1920s. Also known as ‘The Roaring ‘20s’ and ‘The Jazz Age’, the 1920s was an era of economic prosperity following WWI, ending in the stock market crash that triggered the great depression. 1920 saw the addition of the nineteenth amendment, allowing white women over the age of 21 to vote. The eighteenth amendment brought prohibition to the US in January of 1920, but that certainly did not stop people from drinking. Bootlegging and smuggling alcohol led to the rise of not only gangsters like Al Capone, but also J. Edgar Hoover’s ‘G-men’ – the FBI.                                                       

While the decade opened up more liberal views of homosexuality, sex, and drugs, there was also a turn toward isolationism and xenophobia, especially as communism rose in Russia. The trials of Sacco and Vanzetti were protested not only around the country, but around the world, as word got out about the anti-immigrant motives behind their wrongful murder convictions. The Ku Klux Klan reemerged across the country, and instead of focusing on African Americans, as the Klan originally had in the Reconstruction era following the Civil War, the parameters expanded to include anyone who was not white, native born, or protestant. The KKK heavily influence the government, which led to the National Origins Act – legislation that drastically limited the number of foreign immigrants allowed into the US each year.

Government corruption ran deep; Warren G. Harding, president from 1921 until his death in 1923, appointed his unqualified friends as cabinet members and advisors. Though he was only in office for a short amount of time, his presidency was wracked by detractions like the Teapot Dome Scandal, and as of 2010 was ranked the 41st worst president out of 43. His failings are somewhat attributed to his cabinet members and advisors, a “horde of hard-drinking, cigar-smoking, poker-playing, perpetually scheming banditos known as the Ohio Gang” (Bryson, 202). 

The 1920s is perhaps best known for its culture and revolution of the arts. The Harlem Renaissance transformed the African American community in New York led by Langston Hughes. The term ‘Lost Generation’, coined by poet Gertrude Stein, describes the artists and authors who felt disillusioned and cynical after WWI. Many of them lived in Paris during this time, and included notable names such F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Sylvia Beach, John Steinbeck, E. E. Cummings, and many more.  This era introduced many famous titles from these authors such as Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Expressionism and surrealism flourished in Europe, while Art Deco style became popular in the US. The film industry also grew in popularity, with stars such as Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, and Greta Garbo, and the founding and growth of production studios like MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, and 20th Century Fox. While silent films still remained popular, developments in film technology allowed for ‘talking pictures’, or movies that had synchronized sound and film.

Aviation legend Charles Lindberg made history with his cross-Atlantic flight and Henry Ford’s automobile business boomed. Sports legends like Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig became icons in this decade, as well as many others whose names are still around today. On the outside, the 1920s seem dazzling and glamorous, but it was just the high before the fall – the stock market crash of 1929. Incompetent government officials, greed, and vanity set the stage for the stock market crash, causing the worst depression to date. They say history repeats itself, but maybe we can also learn from our mistakes this time through the ‘20s.   

For more information on the 1920s, check out one of the following books on display:

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