The 1920's: A Period of Innovation caleb j. caviness

The political cartoon above shows a perfect description of the 20's. It shows how conflicted our democracy was and all of the ideas that were starting to form and spread. It shows our democracy not knowing what path to take and being overwhelmed by the quantity of ideological systems. This piece perfectly captures the conflict between conservatism, liberalism, and everything between and around those two.

The 1920's. A time of change and an attempt to return to normalcy. This period in time led to many inventions and discoveries that helped further shape the nation.

Many events occurred during the 20's, but this website focuses on three important movements and events: The Harlem Renaissance, The Women's Suffrage Movement, and The Prohibition of Alcohol.

The Harlem Renaissance

Various paintings from The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was a time of revolution in African American culture. It innovated on art, music, and literature. It brought about the ideas of jazz, modernism, and the abstract into the cities of America. In literature, it brought ideas that parallel certain ideologies of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60's.

An example of the innovation in literature is the piece Strange Fruit, by Billie Holiday. This piece brought a modernistic, morbid look on the south to America, to make aware of the horrors that occurred. Holiday described "Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze" as "Strange fruit hanging on the popular trees. He does this in order to make it more grotesque. This thought of bodies being fruit forms abstract and disgusted thoughts about the south, which in its crux was a change from the conservative ideologies that held the nation at the time. This piece illustrated that the south wasn't just racist; it was inhumane and morbid. This is just one example of the new modernistic and abstract ideologies that flooded America in this time.

The Women's Suffrage Movement

The Women's Suffrage movement was a movement by women for women. It called upon the U.S. Government to allow women the right to vote in elections. This was an absurd notion to some and many men and women tried to justify opposition to it through gender roles, inferiority, and social spheres.

In an Anti-Suffrage Newspaper from New York, it was stated that "Such feminism is destroying our national character and warping the natural impulses and beliefs that make a woman's life such a beautiful work of art." This quote has a point, but a very ignorant one at that. It doesn't even give the movement a chance. It keeps its point and tries to force its roles and ideas onto women, who, at the time, didn't feel they wanted. This didn't stop the movement in the slightest however. The women of this movement pushed forward through the opposition and gifted the future generations of women the right to vote. This quote shows how an opposition can fuel a movement.


The Prohibition of Alcohol is seen as a very conservative move, but the outcome, to me, is a change. To some, it can be seen as a change from the old traditions of taverns and partying from earlier centuries. The Prohibition began with, literally, the Prohibition of Alcohol. It was a move to increase productivity and decrease crime and accident rates. Many saw alcohol is immoral and sinful in nature. These ideas are shown in the "Hooch Murder" Bill, by William Anderson. This document states that "a person can be tried for murder, and punished accordingly, if they are suspected of selling alcohol that resulted in the death of the person drinking it." This makes it so one person is responsible for other people's questionable actions. This is a degenerating idea that would only lead to resentment and quarrel. This is a very ignorant viewpoint that takes steps back. Though these ideas wished to further society, which is a more progressive idea, the way it went about it was archaic and too broad. Nonetheless, these ideas and wishes were unsuccessful, as the Prohibition was repealed. The crime rate increased when alcohol was Prohibited, as people changed the way they bought and sold alcohol. That itself is the innovation to me. The Prohibition attempted to make a better society, but it only brought about new ideas and changes in the way our society works now. The overall outcome is a change, caused by the Prohibition itself.


Now, others might say the 1920's were a step back to normalcy, as they try to explain how immigration was limited, the spread of evolution was constrained, and groups like the KKK were running rampant in the south. These are good points, but it simply comes down to the overall effect on the present. These things all came to an end or almost came to an end. Immigration isn't nearly as restricted now, the KKK isn't as destructive, and evolution is not as taboo as it once was. These were all temporary. In the grand scheme, there were some steps back, but there were more steps forward then back. The changes outnumbered the traditions.

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