The New Morality of the 1920s

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  • 0:01 The New Morality
  • 1:07 Gender
  • 1:51 Race
  • 2:43 Sexuality
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will focus on the new morality of the 1920s. It will define liberalism and highlight flappers. It will also explore upper and middle-class attitude changes concerning gender, race, and sexuality.

The New Morality

When most of us think of a decade full of social change and personal expression we tend to think of the 60s or the 70s. However, if you asked my great-grandma about a time of wild living and exploration, she would have told you about the 1920s. Today, we'll explore the new morality of the Roaring 20s, specifically as it pertained to gender, race, and sexuality.

For starters, the new morality of the 1920s is often summed up by the word liberalism. Stated very simply, they're both the idea that all individuals are entitled to freedom and equality. No matter preference, gender, or race, a person is a person above all!

Now, before we get into the new morality of the 20s there's something we have to keep straight. When we're speaking of this new liberalism, we need to keep in mind that we're usually talking about life in the more metropolitan areas of the Northern and Western U.S. We're also discussing people of the middle or upper classes. Sadly, the poor found themselves overlooked by the wave of liberalism sweeping across the North and parts of the West.


With this in mind, let's take a look at the new approach on gender, race, and sexuality that gave the decade the nickname, 'Roaring 20s.' When speaking of gender, the biggest thing we can mention is the 19th Amendment. After years of protests and rallies, this landmark piece gave women the right to vote! Ratified in 1920, it changed the landscape of American politics.

Not stopping there, the 20s saw female attendance at universities climb. Yes, many of the women still studied things like home economics, and many families sent girls to college in order to find an eligible mate. Either way, more girls went to college, so we're chalking this up as a step in the right direction!


Moving away from gender, the new morality of the 20s also brought advancements in racial equality. However, as we mentioned before, most of this equality only filtered into the middle and upper classes of metropolitan areas. For instance, the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spent much of the 20s fighting against unjust law suits and the cruel treatment of African Americans.

In popular culture, American films began placing African Americans and Caucasians onscreen together, and many Northern nightclubs gave admittance to all races. Hollywood also began producing movies which highlighted the cruel treatment of Native Americans. Of course, to say that these small changes came close to leveling the playing field would be absurd. However, it seemed as though small parts of the country were willing to take a look at racial discrimination.


Our last topic of the day is the new morality and sexuality. For this one, we'll revisit women. Due to the work of men like Sigmund Freud, a famous psychoanalyst, women started seeing themselves as sexual beings with the same desires as men. Refusing to be covered from head to toe as chaste saints, cosmopolitan women started showing some skin, smoking and drinking in public, and even going on dates unchaperoned! As the icon of the 20s, these women came to be known as flappers, young women who dressed fashionably and disregarded social convention.

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