Women of the 1920s would be surprised to know that they created an era of the “new woman.” Indeed, a plethora of changes occurred for women in regards to the traditional home life, their role in politics, the workplace, and education. For this reason, women in the roaring twenties played a pivotal role in instigating changes that would be influential for years to come. Perhaps the greatest outcome for women in this era was the political changes. Many women took a firm stand in asserting their position within the landscape of politics. They had recognized that political decisions greatly influenced their everyday lives. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, giving women the right to vote (Brenner, 2004). Surprisingly, there were some women that did not desire voting, as traditional attitudes prevailed in that men and women’s roles were not to overlap or be the same. Typically, these same women believed that the woman belonged in the home raising the family, while the man took care of business matters.
Though not all women were on board once the amendment was passed, by the end of the 1920s, women finally had representation at many levels, such as the local, state, and national levels and were even affecting the federal government’s agenda (Brenner, 2004). Because of women, social issues were brought to light that had previously received far less attention, such as child labor laws and reforms in prison. Although women had far less power than women today overall, they instigated the path to political equality.
Also during the twenties, young and unmarried women having jobs became an increasingly accepted way of life. Young women found themselves no longer restricted to working jobs such as “mill girls” or staying in the home, and began to work in other settings, such as in offices and retail stores. It also became more acceptable for these women to live away from their homes and families. Earning money, for women, provided a semblance of independence for the women in this era. By the end of the decade, one out of every four women had a paying job. Despite the augmenting number of opportunities for women in the workplace, similar goals had been retained for women from the previous era, in which marriage was still the common ambition for nearly all women. This belief was reinforced through society via movies, news, and magazines, who proclaimed that women must marry to guarantee their financial security and social status. As a result, most women worked until they were married (Rosenberg, 2015).
Also in the 1920s, women’s roles expanded to become consumers of many products and fashions. The woman of this era typically smoked a clean, mild cigarette, as a sign of sophistication, and was almost always portrayed as having a cigarette in her hand (Rosenberg, 2015). The woman of this era, or flapper, wore a short skirt, short hair, smoked, drank, wore very evident makeup, and embraced the new freedoms for women. The more publicized flappers wore even shorter skirts, drank illegal liquor, and publicly defied all of society’s norms for the traditional role of women (Rosenberg, 2015).
While not every woman in this era was a true flapper, the fashions quickly made their way into common fashion wear. These fashions portrayed slim and boyish styles, with flattening undergarments. Hemlines grew shorter and shorter, and waistlines were consistently lowered. Women’s hair fashions also grew much shorter, and makeup became a burgeoning market. Within this decade alone, the appearance of women had changed entirely, and represented a more visible component of the massive changes that had occurred for women (Brenner, 2004).
In summary, the women of the roaring twenties played a crucial role in embarking many of the drastic changes, such as earning voting and working rights, which would hence become influential for generations after. The women’s role expanded to environments beyond the home, as the traditional roles of women dissipated. The physical appearance of women also evolved completely from the previous generation, as women embraced the many new freedoms that this era presented.
- Brenner, L. (2004). Women in the 1920s. Retrieved October 21, 2015, from http://ncpedia.org/history/20th-Century/1920s-women
- Rosenberg, J. (2015). The New, Modern Woman: The Flapper. Retrieved October 21, 2015, from http://history1900s.about.com/od/1920s/a/flappers_2.htm