Role of Women in Society
- Before 1910, women had little social and political power in the USA. Their primary role was seen as domestic and their education often focused on homemaking skills.
- The women’s suffrage movement, ignoring societal expectations, pushed for a woman’s right to vote. They campaigned tirelessly, resulting in the 19th Amendment in 1920 which granted women suffrage.
- After gaining the right to vote, women became more politically active, seizing the opportunity to influence laws and policies. Some women even ran for public offices.
- More women started to work outside the home in fields like nursing, teaching and clerical jobs. However, they often faced lower wages and workplace discrimination.
Flappers and the Changing Roles of Women
- A new type of woman emerged in the 1920s, known as a ‘flapper’. These women challenged traditional roles by embracing modern trends in fashion, dancing and other activities.
- Flappers symbolised the changing roles of women, living more freely and expressing their individuality. They enjoyed jazz music, visited speakeasies, and had a more relaxed attitude towards dating.
- This period also saw changes in women’s fashion. Women started wearing shorter skirts and hairstyles, and the use of cosmetics became masses.
- The idea of the ‘New Woman’ was controversial and not all women wanted or were able to pursue this lifestyle, especially those in rural areas or in minority groups.
Women and Prohibition
- The Prohibition Era (1920-1933) was a significant time for women. Many participated in the temperance movement, arguing that alcohol was the cause of domestic issues.
- The imposition of the Prohibition led to an increase in illegal activities such as the production of ‘moonshine’ and the operation of secret bars known as speakeasies. Ironically, many of these speakeasies were frequented by flappers.
- As law enforcement struggled to contain these illegal activities, some women took advantage of the situation to become bootleggers or speakeasy operators themselves, demonstrating again changing societal roles for women.
Impact of the Great Depression
- The optimism of the 1920s came crashing down with the Great Depression which began in 1929. Being mostly in lower-paying jobs, women were hit hard by the economic downturn.
- Many women had to return to more traditional roles, using their domestic skills to stretch small incomes and make ends meet.
- The hardship caused by the Great Depression led to many women becoming more politically active and campaigning for better social and economic conditions. This eventually resulted in significant reforms under the New Deal in the 1930s.