CHAPTER 25 Postwar Society and Culture: Change and Adjustment

Postwar Society and Culture: Change and Adjustment
Directions: Before you begin reading this chapter, in the column entitled “Anticipation” place a
check mark beside any of the following seven statements with which you now agree. When you
have completed your study of this chapter, come back to this section and in the column entitled
“Reaction” place a check mark beside any of the statements with which you then agree. Note any
variation in the placement of check marks from anticipation to reaction and explain why you
changed your mind.
1. _____
2. _____
3. _____
4. _____
5. _____
6. _____
7. _____
The immigration quotas of the 1920s were based on _____ 1.
the national origins of potential immigrants.
Before the 1920s, it was illegal to use artificial
_____ 2.
contraceptive devices in the United States.
The earliest radio stations in the United States were _____ 3.
licensed by the federal government, which also placed
controls on their programming and advertising practices.
The Tennessee court in the famous Scopes Monkey _____ 4.
Trial in 1925 declared that that state’s anti-evolution
law was unconstitutional.
The Eighteenth (Prohibition) Amendment forbade
_____ 5.
the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
The Lost Generation of American writers in the
_____ 6.
1920s wrote of their distaste for materialism,
conformity, and other middle-class values.
Henry Ford was not only a leading business figure
_____ 7.
of the 1920s, he was also notable as a friend to
organized labor, an anti-Semite, and a patron of the arts.
After reading Chapter 25 you should be able to:
Explain how and why America “closed the gates” to immigration in the 1920s.
Show how that is related to the success of the prohibition campaign for a
constitutional amendment, and the popularity of fundamentalism and a renewed Ku
Klux Klan in the 1920s.
Summarize the changing social patterns of families and young people in the 1920s,
and explain why women’s issues assumed greater importance in the 1920s.
Explain the popularity of movies, radio, and spectator sports in the 1920s.
Identify literary trends of the 1920s among the “lost generation” and Paris
expatriates, black nationalists, and the Harlem Renaissance.
Explain how the automobile and airplane revolutionized American life.
Closing the Gates to New Immigrants
After the Great War, many Europeans sought to escape the desperate postwar economic
conditions in Europe by immigrating to the United States. In 1921 Congress reflected
widespread prejudice against southern and eastern Europeans by establishing a quota system. In
1924, the National Origins Act set the quota at two percent of the number of foreign-born
residents that were in the United States in 1890, thereby decreasing even more the proportion of
southern and eastern Europeans that could be admitted. A 1929 law further reduced immigration
to fewer than 150,000 a year.
Ultimately, the foreign-born percentage of the United States population fell, and the quota
system committed the United States to preserving a homogeneous “Anglo-Saxon” population.
Western European nations failed to meet their quotas, while a backlog of southern and eastern
Europeans awaited admission. Moreover, Jews, whether foreign-born or native, faced increasing
discrimination as they encountered anti-Semitism when they sought admission to colleges and
medical schools, or employment in banks and law firms.
New Urban Social Patterns
The 1920 census revealed that for the first time a majority of Americans lived in urban rather
than rural areas. Still, about a third of these lived in small towns and held the same ideas and
values as rural citizens. Nevertheless, urbanization led to changes in family structure, as couples
married more out of love and physical attraction than for social or economic advantage, and in
successive decades, married later and had fewer children. Fewer than 10 percent of married
women worked outside the home, because most male skilled workers earned enough to support a
family in modest comfort. Working women tended to be either childless or highly-paid
professionals who could employ servants.
Outlooks on marriage were changing too. Advocates of companionate family relationships
downplayed male authority and rigid discipline, and they believed divorce should be made
easier. A debate brewed over the socialization and psychological development of children. One
view stressed rigid training that fostered independence; the other, a permissive approach in
which parents heeded their children’s expressed needs. In The Companionate Marriage,
Benjamin Lindsey suggested “trial marriage” for young couples who practiced contraception.
The personal freedom derived from anonymity in large cities further loosened social constraints
on sexuality, including homosexuality.
The Younger Generation
Because they faced profound changes in the world they entered, young people of the 1920s were
more expressive and unconventional than their grandparents. For 1920s youth, relations between
the sexes were becoming more relaxed and uninhibited. Young men began to “pick up” their
dates in cars, rather than paying calls at their dates’ homes where they remained under parental
supervision. Young women wore makeup, shortened their hair and skirts, smoked in public, and
soaked up the liberating theories of “sexologists.” Some observers bemoaned what they saw as
the breakdown of moral standards, the fragmentation of the family, and the decline of parental
authority. But the rebelliousness was a youthful conformity shaped by peer pressure, particularly
at the college level.
The “New” Woman
Young people in the 1920s were more open about sex than their counterparts of earlier
generations, but relatively few engaged in premarital sex. Margaret Sanger, a political radical,
prewar bohemian, and former nurse, promoted birth control, largely a concern of married women
in the 1920s. Her efforts focused on poor women who knew nothing of birth control methods.
Although divorce laws were liberalized and more women entered the work force, the double
standard remained. Women took jobs that were menial, low-paying, or unwanted by men:
clerks, receptionists, elementary school teachers, and telephone operators. Another blow was
dealt to working women in 1923, when the Supreme Court in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital
struck down a federal law that limited the hours of working women in the District of Columbia.
Feminists such as Alice Paul, founder of the Women’s party and proponent of an equal rights
amendment, were disillusioned when the suffrage did not bring women to the point of equality
with men. The Women’s party was not successful because younger feminists, like prewar
bohemians, focused on personal freedom, not politics, and because feminists failed to see that
gender discrimination was learned behavior that stood in the way of sexual equality.
Popular Culture: Movies and Radio
The first motion pictures were brief, action-packed, unpretentious, and inexpensive; thus, they
were popular among immigrants and workers. Technical and artistic breakthroughs, however,
moved films into theaters and to more cultured audiences. The Jazz Singer (1927) was the first
major motion picture with sound. Color film soon followed. Sex, crime, war, romance, comedy,
and luxurious living were the main themes. Films were criticized for corrupting youth and
glorifying materialism, yet filmmakers created an entirely new theatrical art and eventually
produced many dramatic works of high quality.
Charlie Chaplin, who portrayed a sad-eyed little tramp, was the dominant star of the silent
screen. His work proved to be universally popular and enduring. Meanwhile, Walt Disney’s
animated cartoons gave endless delight to millions of children.
Radio was developed before the Great War, and the first commercial station, KDKA, opened in
Pittsburgh in 1920. Within two years over 500 stations were in operation. Advertisers seized
upon radio with mixed results: They financed elaborate entertainment, but preferred noncontroversial programming aimed at the lowest tastes. Radio proved to be as effective a way to
sell soap as to transmit the news. Congress limited the number of stations and the Federal
Communications Commission was empowered to revoke the licenses of stations that failed to
operate in the public interest—but placed no controls on programming and advertising practices.
The Golden Age of Sports
More leisure time and spending money in the 1920s allowed many people to attend athletic
events. Baseball was the single most popular sport, as Babe Ruth and the live ball changed the
nature of the game from one ruled by pitchers and low scores to one where hitting was more
greatly admired.
The 1920s produced a number of superstars in several sports. Leading figures included Bill
Tilden (tennis), Bobby Jones (golf), Jack Dempsey (boxing), and Harold “Red” Grange (college
football). Gertrude Ederle was not only the first woman to swim the English Channel but she did
so faster than the four men who had previously made it across. And perhaps the greatest allaround athlete of the century was Jim Thorpe, who had won the pentathlon and decathlon in the
1912 Olympics and enjoyed enormous popularity as professional baseball and football player in
the twenties.
Urban-Rural Conflicts: Fundamentalism
A resurgence of religious fundamentalism swept through American rural areas in the 1920s.
Concentrated among Baptists and Methodists, fundamentalists held a powerfully conservative
outlook, rejected Darwin’s theory of evolution, and resented modern urban culture and its
temptations. William Jennings Bryan, who devoted his later life to moral and religious causes,
was perhaps the most prominent fundamentalist figure. He and other fundamentalists rejected
Darwin’s theory of evolution and believed it should not be taught in the public schools.
In 1925, Tennessee passed a law that forbade teachers in state schools and colleges to teach
Darwin’s theory of evolution. The American Civil Liberties Union financed a test case to
challenge the constitutionality of the statute. John T. Scopes, a biology teacher in Dayton,
agreed to break the law, and his arrest led to the sensational Monkey Trial. Clarence Darrow,
Scopes’ defense attorney, declared that civilization, not Scopes, was on trial. Such reporters as
Henry L. Mencken flocked to Dayton to ridicule Bryan, who affirmed the biblical account of
creation. Scopes, who was convicted and fined $100, subsequently left Dayton, the trial judge
was defeated for reelection, and Bryan collapsed and died a few days after the trial ended.
Urban-Rural Conflicts: Prohibition
The Eighteenth Amendment, ratified in 1919, forbade the manufacture, transportation, and sale
of alcoholic beverages. At the outset of U.S. involvement in the Great War, the Lever Act, as a
conservation endeavor, had outlawed the use of grain in the manufacture of alcoholic beverages;
state and local laws had already made much of the country “dry” by 1917. The lingering distrust
of foreigners also played into the hands of prohibitionists because beer drinking was associated
with the Germans.
Prohibition significantly reduced the national consumption of alcohol. Arrests for drunkenness
and deaths from alcoholism fell off sharply. Had the “drys” been willing to legalize wine and
beer, the “noble experiment” might have worked, but secret bars or clubs known as speakeasies,
which usually operated with the sanction of the local police, replaced saloons. Smuggling
(bootlegging) liquor became a major business.
Prohibition enhanced but did not originate the criminal empires of such gangsters as Chicago’s
Al Capone. Prohibition also shook the Democratic party by creating a split between southern
drys and northern urban wets. Nearly all prominent leaders equivocated shamelessly on the
liquor question; politicians denounced the evils of drinking but did not adequately fund the
Prohibition Bureau to enforce the law. In fact, they helped undermine public morality by
encouraging hypocrisy.
The Ku Klux Klan
Former preacher William J. Simmons organized a new Ku Klux Klan in 1915 amid the distrust
some felt toward foreigners, blacks, Catholics, and Jews. By 1923, two publicity agents had
gained control of the Klan and claimed a total of five million members. The Klan vowed to
return to an older, supposedly finer America and to stamp out nonconformity. It encouraged
frustrated people to intimidate minorities and nonconformists from behind the anonymity of their
masks. The Klan’s membership declined when rival factions squabbled over money collected
from dues, and when the Indiana Klansman David C. Stephenson was convicted of assaulting
and causing the death of a young woman, the rank and file began to desert the organization in
Sacco and Vanzetti
In 1920, two men in South Braintree, Massachusetts, killed a paymaster and a guard in a daylight
robbery of a shoe factory. Two Italian immigrants and anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo
Vanzetti, were convicted of the murders. Their trial was a travesty of justice—the judge, for
example, called the defendants “those anarchist bastards.” The case became an international
cause célèbre, but the pair was eventually electrocuted, to the disillusionment of many
intellectuals. Some historians, impressed by ballistic studies of Sacco’s gun, now suspect that he
may have been guilty.
Literary Trends
Most literature of the 1920s reflected the disillusionment of intellectuals, who were made bitter
critics of society by the horrors of war, the antics of fundamentalists, and the cruelty of the Klan
and red-baiters. These young men and women crushed by the repressive spirit of the age dubbed
themselves the “lost generation,” yet their negativism produced a literary flowering. F. Scott
Fitzgerald epitomized the new breed of authors in This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, and
Tender is the Night. Fitzgerald’s own life descended into the despair of alcoholism. To protect
their individualism, several literary expatriates left the United States to live in Paris. Ernest
Hemingway graphically portrayed the rootless desperation of their world in The Sun Also Rises.
In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway’s sparse style evoked the confusion and horror of war. Edith
Wharton’s The Age of Innocence offered a penetrating portrait of the vanished world of the
nineteenth century.
Iconoclastic journalist H. L. Mencken founded the American Mercury, a magazine critical of
middle-class interests and values. Mencken was a cynic, but quite impartial as to those he
skewered. Sinclair Lewis, in the novels Main Street and Babbitt assailed middle-class
provinciality and bigotry, and portrayed businessmen as blindly orthodox in their political and
social opinions. Lewis, the most popular novelist of the 1920s, in other works challenged the
medical profession, organized religion, and fascism. He was the first American author to win a
Nobel Prize for literature.
The “New Negro”
Southern blacks continued to move north after the Great War, concentrating in urban ghettos
amid de facto segregated conditions. Sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd in their classic
analysis of “Middletown” concluded that, despite integrated schools, blacks and whites in the
North were segregated in churches, theaters, and other public accommodations.
The disappointments of the 1920s produced a new militancy among African Americans. W. E.
B. Du Bois, who vacillated between support for integration and black separatism, tried but failed
to create an international black movement. Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro
Improvement Association, who despised whites, proposed that African Americans return to the
African homeland of their ancestors. Garvey’s Black Star steamship line went into bankruptcy,
and he later was imprisoned for defrauding investors in his various enterprises. But Garvey’s
promotion of a “New Negro” sparked pride among African Americans and made them willing to
resist mistreatment.
Living in ghettos increased African Americans’ political power, stimulated their confidence, and
offered them economic opportunities. Harlem became the largest black “city” in the world in the
1920s. The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s gave new hope for the demise of racial prejudice
to African-American intellectuals such as the poet Langston Hughes.
Economic Expansion
The 1920s were exceptionally prosperous, as business boomed, real wages rose, and
unemployment declined. Perhaps 40 percent of the total wealth of the world lay in American
hands. Prosperity rested on the confidence of the business community, low interest rates, pentup wartime demand, an increase in industrial output, and the efficiency of manufacturing.
The assembly line, perfected by Henry Ford, speeded production and reduced costs to make it
possible for average citizens to own many consumer products. Frederick W. Taylor’s time-andmotion studies, applied to hundreds of factories after the war, further streamlined the
manufacturing process.
The Age of the Consumer
To create new consumer demand for these goods, advertisers worked to make them more
attractive and producers changed models frequently to entice buyers into the market. The
introduction of the installment plan helped place big, expensive items within reach of the masses.
Technological advances created new, improved—and more appealing—products.
The automobile had the single most important impact on the economy. By 1929, some 23
million private cars were on the highways, nearly one per family. The industry gave Americans
a freedom not previously imagined and spurred the development of related businesses, triggered
road-building, and fostered tourism. The automobile also changed recreational patterns and
family life, and it gave Americans a feeling of freedom, power, and status that altered the way
they thought. At the same time, though, the automobile resulted in cluttered roadsides, air
pollution, traffic accidents, and the neglect of public transportation.
Henry Ford
Henry Ford was the man most responsible for the growth of the automobile industry. His genius
lay in reducing prices to match consumer buying power. By 1925 his designers and the
assembly line had cut costs and increased efficiency so Ford could reduce the price of the Model
T to under $300. He also grasped the importance of high wages in stimulating output: In 1914
he established the $5 day, an increase of about $2 over prevailing wages. His assembly line and
high wages increased the pace of work and made each worker more productive, as well as a
potential Ford buyer.
In time Ford became a billionaire who refused to deal with unions, spied on his employees, and
fired any worker who drove any car but a Ford. When Ford failed to modernize, General Motors
became a major competitor by offering better vehicles at slightly higher prices. Though
uninformed on many topics, Ford spoke out on controversial issues. He denounced alcohol and
tobacco consumption, once said that he would not give a nickel for all the art in the world, and
defined history as “more or less the bunk.” Despite his virulent anti-Semitism, his homespun
style and intense individualism still led many to regard him as a folk hero.
The Airplane
The internal combustion engine, with its high ratio of power to weight, made the airplane
possible; hence early experiments with planes occurred at about the same time that the
prototypes of the modern automobile were being manufactured. Wilbur and Orville Wright
launched the first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903, five years before Ford produced
the Model T. Another pair of brothers, Malcolm and Haimes Lockheed, built one of the first
commercial planes. The Great War accelerated advances in airplane technology.
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew his single-engine Spirit of St. Louis nonstop from New York to
Paris in 33 hours, a formidable achievement. “Lucky Lindy” became an international hero, but
one who shunned exploitation of his fame. Lindbergh’s flight enormously increased public
interest in flying. Another pioneer of aviation was William E. Boeing, who began flying
passengers and mail between San Francisco and Chicago in 1927.
Define the following:
immigration quota system ___________________________________________________
E Pluribus Unum __________________________________________________________
Greenwich Village bohemian ________________________________________________
nickelodeon ______________________________________________________________
fundamentalism ___________________________________________________________
speakeasy ________________________________________________________________
“lost generation” __________________________________________________________
assembly line _____________________________________________________________
cause célèbre _____________________________________________________________
Describe the following:
Birth of a Nation __________________________________________________________
The Jazz Singer____________________________________________________________
Federal Communications Commission _________________________________________
Scopes trial _______________________________________________________________
Comstock Act ____________________________________________________________
Lever Act ________________________________________________________________
Ku Klux Klan _____________________________________________________________
Universal Negro Improvement Association ______________________________________
Harlem Renaissance _______________________________________________________
Identify the following:
John B. Watson ___________________________________________________________
Margaret Sanger __________________________________________________________
Bobby Jones ______________________________________________________________
Jack Dempsey ____________________________________________________________
Gertrude Ederle ____________________________________________________________
Babe Ruth _______________________________________________________________
Al Capone _______________________________________________________________
Sacco and Vanzetti ________________________________________________________
F. Scott Fitzgerald _________________________________________________________
Frederick W. Taylor
H. L. Mencken ____________________________________________________________
William J. Simmons ________________________________________________________
Bruce Barton _____________________________________________________________
Multiple-Choice Questions
By 1930, the latest immigration law allowed into the country _____ new immigrants each
year; each country’s quota was based on _____.
A. the number equal to two percent of the number of foreign-born residents in the United
States in 1890; the number of its nationals in the United States in 1890
B. the number equal to three percent of the number of foreign-born residents in the
United States in 1910; the number of its nationals in the United States in 1910
C. 150,000; the national origin of the white population of the United States in 1920
D. 350,000; the national origin of the total population of the United States in 1900
The immigration laws enacted in the 1920s resulted in all of the following EXCEPT
A. an increase in the annual immigration from Britain.
B. a decline in the total number of immigrants entering the United States.
C. a decline in the number of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.
D. a decline in percentage of foreign born in the population.
Proponents of “companionate relationships” favored all of the following EXCEPT
A. marriage decisions based on social position and economic advantage.
B. trial marriages.
C. equality of husband and wives.
D. easier divorce laws for childless couples.
Most single young people in the 1920s were all the following EXCEPT
A. rarely engaging in premarital sex.
B. sexually precocious.
C. open about sex.
D. marrying at a young age.
The leading proponent of birth control in the 1920s was
A. Havelock Ellis.
B. Margaret Sanger.
C. Helen Wills.
D. John B. Watson.
A breakdown of sex-based restrictions and limitations in the 1920s is illustrated in all of the
following EXCEPT
A. the double standard was eliminated.
B. more women were employed.
C. divorce laws were modified.
D. a growing number of women graduated from college.
The Nineteenth Amendment did NOT drastically alter the political landscape because of all
of the following reasons EXCEPT
A. women did not vote as a bloc.
B. most married women voted for candidates favored by their husbands.
C. many feminists lost interest in continuing to agitate for social change.
D. the equal rights amendment failed.
Which of these statements regarding the motion picture industry is FALSE?
A. Probably the most popular star of the silent screen was “the little tramp” Charlie
B. The Jazz Singer was the first motion picture filmed in color.
C. By 1920, all cities and most towns had at least one motion picture theater.
D. The Birth of a Nation, which depicted the Ku Klux Klan in a favorable light, marked
a technological and artistic breakthrough.
Match the superstar of the 1920s with his or her sport.
A. “Red” Grange
B. Jack Dempsey
C. Bobby Jones
D. Gertrude Ederle
A2, B3, C1, D4
A4, B2, C3, D1
A2, B1, C3, D4
A3, B2, C4, D1
The prohibition movement was aided by all of the following EXCEPT
A. the Great War.
B. anti-immigrant attitudes.
C. united urban-rural support.
D. progressive reform views.
Which of these statements does NOT apply to fundamentalism in the 1920s?
A. Fundamentalists were mostly found among Protestants in the South.
B. Urban sophisticates dismissed fundamentalists as boors and hayseeds.
C. Fundamentalists were devoted to truths of the King James version of the Bible.
D. Fundamentalists opposed laws to prohibit the teaching of the theory of evolution in
textbooks and classrooms.
Prohibition might have been successful had
A. the issue been left to the states.
B. its supporters been willing to legalize beer and wine.
C. police more effectively enforced the ban on liquor sales.
D. illegal liquor imports been halted.
The Ku Klux Klan declined by the late 1920s because
A. Americans grew more tolerant of immigrants.
B. factionalism sprang up, and rival leaders squabbled over dues.
C. church leaders denounced the Klan.
D. the Klan failed to influence politics at any level.
Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted and sentenced to death for
A. murder.
B. terrorism.
C. rape.
D. conspiracy.
Match the literary figure of the 1920s with his or her work.
A. F. Scott Fitzgerald
Main Street
B. Ernest Hemingway
The Great Gatsby
C. Edith Wharton
The Age of Innocence
D. Sinclair Lewis
The Sun Also Rises
A1, B2, C3, D4
A4, B3, C2, D1
A3, B1, C4, D2
A2, B4, C3, D1
The “black pride” leader of an African American “Back to Africa” movement in the 1920s
A. Marcus Garvey.
B. W.E.B. Du Bois.
C. Langston Hughes.
D. Frederick W. Tayler.
Economic expansion and prosperity in the 1920s rested on many bases, including all of the
following EXCEPT
A. pent-up wartime demand for consumer goods.
B. government planning.
C. mechanization of industry.
D. greater efficiency in manufacturing.
The new technology with the single most important impact on the U.S. economy in the
1920s was the
A. automobile.
B. radio.
C. airplane.
D. motion picture.
Henry Ford was so successful because he
A. was a great inventor.
B. was the first person to manufacture a good low-priced car.
C. paid high wages to help achieve lower costs of production.
D. worked closely with the unions to guarantee worker satisfaction.
Which of these is mispaired?
A. Wright Brothers—Kitty Hawk
B. Charles Lindburgh—Spirit of St. Louis
C. Al Capone—Comstock Act of 1873
D. Babe Ruth—Yankee Stadium
Essay Questions
Describe American immigration policy in the decade after the Great War. Explain how and
why Congress decided to “close the gates.”
Explain how the role of women changed in the 1920s in reference to family life, sexual
relationships, occupations, and attitudes.
Compare and contrast the clash of rural and urban interests in the Scopes trial of 1925.
Refer particularly to John T. Scopes, William Jennings Bryan, and Clarence Darrow.
Analyze prohibition as a “noble experiment” of the 1920s. List the advantages and
disadvantages to the drive to ban the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcoholic
Assess the pivotal role of Henry Ford in modern manufacturing and the revolution of
transportation in the United States.
Study beyond the textbook to list the American literary or intellectual figures to whom the
following analytical statements refer:
Though he did not moralize against adultery, one of his greatest works
depicted a tragedy resulting from an adulterous tryst.
In an age of prohibition and traditional values, this literary genius fell prey
to alcoholism and hedonism.
This writer abhorred traditional values of his parents to embrace
“individual expression.” Yet he followed his physician father in taking his
own life.
A diary that surfaced in 1990 disclosed that this late social critic himself
exhibited many of the prejudices he had denounced during the twenties,
particularly hostile attitudes toward blacks and Jews.
His novel about one unscrupulous minister was critical of organized
Their scholarly analysis uncovered a phenomenon later called de facto
segregation in the North.
Before finally leaving the United States in disillusionment, he seemed at
times to endorse black nationalism, integration into the white community,
and an international black movement. He ultimately joined the Communist
This optimistic poet saw an unbounded future for the artistic and
intellectual culture of blacks in the 1920s.