the changing role of women in 1920s america was embodied by the image of

the changing role of women in 1920s america was embodied by the image of

the changing role of women in 1920s america was embodied by the image of

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The changing role of women in 1920s America was embodied by the image of

The image of the Flapper represented the changing role of women in the 1920s. Flappers were jazz age women who wore bob haircuts and short skirts and partied all the time.

Women in the 1920s in North Carolina

A woman of 1920 would be surprised to know that she would be remembered as a “new woman.” Many changes would enter her life in the next ten years. Significant changes for women took place in politics, the home, the workplace, and in education. Some were the results of laws passed, many resulted from newly developed technologies, and all had to do with changing attitudes toward the place of women in society.

The most far-reaching change was political. Many women believed that it was their right and duty to take a serious part in politics. They recognized, too, that political decisions affected their daily lives. When passed in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote. Surprisingly, some women didn’t want the vote. A widespread attitude was that women’s roles and men’s roles did not overlap. This idea of  “separate spheres” held that women should concern themselves with home, children, and religion, while men took care of business and politics. North Carolina opponents of woman suffrage, or voting, claimed that “women are not the equal of men mentally” and being able to vote “would take them out of their proper sphere of life.”

Though slow to use their newly won voting rights, by the end of the decade, women were represented on local, state, and national political committees and were influencing the political agenda of the federal government. More emphasis began to be put on social improvement, such as protective laws for child labor and prison reform. Women active in politics in 1929 still had little power, but they had begun the journey to actual political equality.

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the changing role of women in 1920s america was embodied by the image of
the changing role of women in 1920s america was embodied by the image of

How Flappers of the Roaring Twenties Redefined Womanhood

No cultural symbol of the 1920s is more recognizable than the flapper. A young woman with a short “bob” hairstyle, cigarette dangling from her painted lips, dancing to a live jazz band. Flappers romped through the Roaring Twenties, enjoying the new freedoms ushered in by the end of the First World War and the dawn of a new era of prosperity, urbanism and consumerism.

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The decade kicked off with passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave white women the vote. Women also joined the workforce in increasing numbers, participated actively in the nation’s new mass consumer culture, and enjoyed more freedom in their personal lives. Despite the heady freedoms embodied by the flapper, real liberation and equality for women remained elusive in the 1920s, and it would be left to later generations of women to fully benefit from the social changes the decade set in motion.

The exact origins of the word ‘flapper’ remain unknown.

While the exact origin of the term “flapper” is unknown, it is assumed to have originated in Britain before World War I, when it was used to describe gawky young teenage girls. After the war, the word would become synonymous with the new breed of 1920s women who bobbed their hair above their ears, wore skirts that skimmed their knees, smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol while dancing in jazz clubs, always surrounded by admiring male suitors.

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the changing role of women in 1920s
the changing role of women in 1920s

Women move to cities and into the workforce, but stayed in traditional ‘women’s roles.’

The flapper was born out of a growing landscape in America. By 1920, for the first time in the nation’s history, more Americans (51 percent) were living in cities rather than in rural areas. As part of the nation’s urbanization and economic growth, more and more women were entering the workforce. By 1929, more than a quarter of all women, and more than half of single women, were gainfully employed.

For the most part, however, the increase of working women didn’t represent a challenge to traditional gender roles. Nearly a third of working women in the 1920s were domestic servants, while the rest were clerical workers, factory workers, store clerks and other “feminized” professions. “Women are working, but they’re working in what are called ‘women’s jobs,’” says Lynn Dumenil, professor emerita of history at Occidental College and author of The Second Line of Defense: American Women and World War I.

Even women who blazed a trail in politics faced barriers due to their gender: Most female officeholders worked primarily on what were seen as “women’s issues,” preventing them from acquiring too much power within their political parties. It was progress though, with a handful of women would be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (none to the Senate), and many more served at the state and local levels.

the changing role of women in 1920s
Four women line up along a wall and chug bottles of liquor in the 1920s.

While their wages were not high, women joined the new mass consumer culture.

Their wages might not have matched that of their male counterparts, but working women used their purchasing power to join the nation’s new mass consumer culture. “The nature of domestic life changes for urban women, certainly, in the ’20s,” Dumenil says. By 1927, nearly two-thirds of American homes would have electricity, and new consumer goods like the washing machine, refrigerator and vacuum cleaner were revolutionizing housework and home life. Women were the major target audience for many of the new products, including household appliances, clothing and cosmetics.

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The rise of the automobile contributed to the sense of freedom and possibility that suffused the Roaring Twenties. “The car is central to Americans’ lives in the 1920s, across the board,” Dumenil explains. “Not everyone can afford one, but consumer credit also expands in the ’20s,” leading to a new generation of American debtors. Meanwhile, the information revolution brought about by the emergence of the radio allowed a newly vibrant, youth-centered, urban culture to spread across the United States.

The flapper lifestyle also affected marriages and sexuality.

Housework wasn’t the only factor changing for women on the home front. “The nature of marriage starts to change,” Dumenil explains. “There’s more of a sense, not of equality, but more of companionship between men and women in marriage. The assumption about women’s sexuality changes.” Birth control was becoming more widely available, at least for more privileged women, which helped limit family size and allowed women the freedom to explore their sexuality without facing the consequences of unwanted pregnancies.

 

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