With the end of the Great War, Americans wanted to enjoy their peace--and they did, with a vengeance. Historians call this period the Roaring Twenties because Americans made a lot of money, spent a lot of money, and focused on having fun.
Many Americans got rich by investing in the stock market. A stock is a share in a company. If the value of the company increases, so does the value of the stock. In the 1920s, most stocks sharply increased in price, and many people used all of their savings to buy stocks and hoped to sell them when prices rose even more. As more and more people invested their money, stock prices rose far above their actual value. This would lead to trouble later on.
Americans had more free time as the labor movement fought successfully for the eight-hour workday. They used this time to enjoy the technological advances of the period. People bought cars and new electric appliances to make their lives easier. They listened to the radio or went to the movies. In 1927, many flocked to see The Jazz Singer, the first "talkie," or movie with sound. And many enjoyed drinking alcoholic beverages.
In 1919, states ratified the Eighteenth Amendment, which called for Prohibition, making it illegal to produce or sell alcoholic beverages. This had a profound effect on Americans' lives during the 1920s. The people who supported temperance (a movement banning alcohol) hoped that Prohibition would lead to a more moral society.
Prohibition had just the opposite effect. For many, it made drinking alcohol seem all the more glamorous and exciting. Illegal clubs, called speakeasies, sprang up where people went to drink and socialize. Bootleggers profited by making illegal alcohol, and gangsters got rich selling it. It became obvious that Prohibition was doing more harm than good by promoting a national atmosphere of lawlessness. In 1933, fourteen years after Prohibition went into effect, the Twenty-first Amendment repealed, or canceled, the Eighteenth.
African American culture flourished during this period, which featured writers and poets such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. This rebirth of African American culture is called the Harlem Renaissance because so much of it took place in Harlem, a mostly African American neighborhood in New York City.
The 1920s also saw a new phenomenon: the media celebrity. For the first time, newspapers and radios could reach huge numbers of people, and sensational stories made individuals famous overnight. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh became world famous when he made the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Amelia Earhart also gained celebrity status when in 1928 she became the first woman to pilot a craft across the Atlantic.
It was an exciting time with money, entertainment, and novelty all around. But it was not a wonderful time for all Americans. Minority groups experienced discrimination as some people argued that the only "true" Americans were white Protestants whose ancestors came from Western Europe. In the South, the Ku Klux Klan became more powerful. African Americans continued to face Jim Crow laws, and lynchings continued. In Congress, politicians passed laws limiting immigration.
American women continued to fight for suffrage, or the right to vote, during this period. The movement had begun with the 1848 convention at Seneca Falls, and it gained momentum in 1872 after passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African American men the right to vote. Some territories and states actually granted women suffrage early on, beginning with Wyoming in 1869 and followed by Colorado, Idaho, and Utah. But the fight for a Constitutional amendment that would apply to the whole nation continued. Leaders such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Carrie Chapman Catt led the way, with speeches, marches, and hunger strikes.
A women's suffrage amendment came before Congress in 1878 and every year for the next forty years. Finally, in 1919, Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote. States ratified the amendment in 1920.
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