The woman of 1920s is usually referred to as the New Woman because of the changes that took place in their social and economic lives. These changes took place in the political arena, at the work places, in their houses as well as in their education. The changes were driven by many factors such as new technologies and society's changing attitudes towards women (Cunningham 15 - 20).
One of the major changes that took place was the passing of the 19th Amendment on 4th of June, 1919. This Amendment gave the women a right to vote and was formally consented in 1920. Women suffrage was driven by the fact that the society slowly came to embrace the idea that what happened in the political spheres directly affected the womens lives. The women were slow in embracing this right to vote, but within a decade they had representations in local, state and national political spheres. Much of this voting power was used to advocate for social welfare such as prisons reforms and setting up laws to protect the children (Blee 5).
With the right to vote in place, women then decided to embrace education so as to empower themselves intellectually. Colleges began getting new female enrollments. Most of the women took up courses such as nursing and teaching which were considered ideal for them at the time. Their journey into education was not easy especially with an education system that had a culture of intolerance and chauvinism against women. Education gave the women an impetus to start fighting for political and social equality (Taneja 13) More women in this generation took up some form of employment to earn money as compared to the generation of women before them who were mostly housewives. Many got jobs in textile mills as teachers, nurses or social workers in some social programs. However, most employers did not hire black women due to the high levels of racism during that period. As a result, most of the black women got employed as domestic and child care workers by the white women who had formal employment. With their education, women were able to perform clerical duties and middle-level management tasks at departmental stores and workshops. The society began embracing the notion that female workers could stay away from their families. Working for salaries and wages gave women some degree of freedom and independence (Baker 7).
Advances in technology during the 1920s changed the womens way of doing work at their homes. The advent of electricity and plumbing simplified household works. With vacuum cleaners and washing machines powered by electricity, house chores took a relatively shorter time. Indoor plumbing reduced the number of trips the women needed to make to the wells and rivers to fetch water. Electric lights were more efficient than candles and kerosene lamps, and this enabled women to do some household duties in the night. These labor saving devices ensured that the women had extra leisure time (Wilson 7).
With the money from employment and extra time from the labor-saving devices, women's social lifestyles changed. They became consumers of popular products and trendy fashions. Some started smoking cigarettes, a habit that was initially considered strictly masculine. Smoking was advertised to women as a symbol of sophistication. There emerged a new group of women called "Flappers". The flappers were a representation of the new age and flamboyant women who lived according to the prevailing trends and fashions. A majority of average women would always try to imitate the image portrayed by the flappers either by way of lifestyle or dressing (Adams, Keene and Koella 11).
Flappers were easily recognized by their short hairstyles, short skirts, distinctive make-up and hyper attitudes. This group of women stopped wearing the corsets and long skirts and adopted clothing deemed convenient for any occasion they were attending. To be a flapper, a woman had to have money and extra time for partying. Their short skirts were usually complemented with highly colored stockings. The flappers' hairstyles were cut into a "bob" which was significantly different from the traditionally long hairstyle adopted by women of earlier generations (Bruley 6).
As part of their entertainment, this generation of women embraced the jazz music which was a blend of blues and some rhythm. During this period, the radio and phonograph were a must have technology in most womens houses. The jazz music came with new dancing styles that were eagerly learned by the young women of the 1920s era. The dance moves of this period were vigorous and required some considerable amount of freedom hence the choice of the new trend of clothes. The introduction of radio broadcast further perpetuated the jazz music. To some people, this was the beginning of decadence in dancing styles (Wilson 8).
Divorce was made easier during this period. With the financial independence, women were not ready to sit in the house and put up with abusive husbands or stay at home spouses who had no jobs. Most young women preferred to enjoy their free time enjoying the music of the day and shelved the idea of long-term marital relationships. Many idolized the flappers, most of whom were unmarried. During this period, the rate of divorce, especially among young couples, increased (Bingham 5)It is evident that the 1920s period changed a lot on the lifestyle of women both socially and economically. It formed the foundation of the clamor for gender equality. It is as a result of these changes that the modern day woman considers herself an equal partner to her male counterpart in many social spheres.
Adams, Katherine H, Michael L Keene and Jennifer C Koella. Seeing the American Woman, 1880-1920: The Social Impact of the Visual Media Explosion. Jefferson: McFarland, 2011.
Baker, Jean H. Women and the U.S. Constitution, 1776-1920. Washington: American Historical Association, 2009.
Bingham, Jane . Women at War: The Progressive Era, WWI and Women's Suffrage, 1900-1920. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2011.
Blee, Kathleen M. Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s. 2nd. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
Bruley, Sue. Leninism, Stalinism, and the Women's Movement in Britain, 1920-1939. Abingdon: Routledge, 2012.
Cunningham, Patricia A. Reforming Women's Fashion, 1850-1920: Politics, Health, and Art. Kent: Kent State University Press, 2003.
Taneja, Anup . Gandhi, Women, and the National Movement, 1920-47. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications, 2005.
Wilson, Jan. The Women's Joint Congressional Committee and the Politics of Maternalism, 1920-30. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2010.
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