Women in the 1920s

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  • 0:01 Suffrage
  • 1:05 Flappers
  • 2:10 Sexuality
  • 2:40 Accomplishment
  • 3:55 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 explore women in the 1920s. It will highlight suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul. It will also discuss the life and attitudes of the iconic flappers.

Suffrage

When discussing the woman of the 1920s, most picture the flapper. With her short hair and her fringed dress, she captures the imagination of generations. Although she's the icon of the Roaring 20s, she owes much of her liberty to the women who came before her. For this reason, our lesson on the 1920s woman begins with the suffragettes.

Suffragettes fought for a woman's right to vote. Including heroes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a women's rights advocate who worked from the mid 1800s until her death in 1902, they carved a place for women on the political landscape of America. After decades of struggle, their dream became reality with the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment. This historic piece of legislation granted the vote to women.

Building on the right to vote, women thirsted for freedom in other areas. Sadly, most of the new liberties were only enjoyed by white middle and upper class women. Women of the poorer classes remained strapped to the past. However, for those with some wealth, a whole new world opened up.

Flappers

Made famous on the big screen, flappers were young women of the 20s intent on enjoying themselves and defying conventional rules of behavior. Throwing off the prudish Victorian styles of the past, flappers expressed their newfound freedom through fashion. They threw off their tight corsets for low-waisted, knee length dresses. Scoffing at the idea that a woman's glory is found in her long hair, they cut their locks into chin-length bobs. Not only did these women dress differently than their moms, grandmas, and aunts, they also behaved differently. Refusing to be assigned the role of moral compass for society, flappers smoked, drank alcohol, went to clubs, and danced with men they didn't necessarily know.

They also donned makeup, and not just a little blush on the cheeks. They colored their lips and shaded their eyes, areas that in the past were only painted by saloon girls and prostitutes. However, when speaking of challenging moral norms, these behaviors were only the tip of the iceberg.

Sexuality

Flappers didn't just dance and drink; they also challenged traditional views on sexuality. With help from men like the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, flappers saw themselves as sexual beings with the same impulses as men. They went on unchaperoned dates and dated more than one man. Rather than blushing over sexual topics, they spoke openly about things once reserved for the bedroom.

Accomplishment

Moving away from such topics, the 1920s opened up new doors besides those of cosmetics, dancing, and dating. During this decade, women continued to challenge the old boys' club. Alice Paul authored the Equal Rights Amendment, which called for greater equality among the sexes.

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