Flappers and Mothers: New Women in the 1920s Essay

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Flappers and Mothers: New Women in the 1920s

Frederick Lewis Allen, in his famous chronicle of the 1920s Only Yesterday, contended that women’s “growing independence” had accelerated a “revolution in manners and morals” in American society (95). The 1920s did bring significant changes to the lives of American women. World War I, industrialization, suffrage, urbanization, and birth control increased women’s economic, political, and sexual freedom. However, with these advances came pressure to conform to powerful but contradictory archetypes. Women were expected to be both flapper and wife, sex object and mother. Furthermore, Hollywood and the emerging “science” of advertising increasingly tied conceptions of femininity to
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There were few female doctors, lawyers, politicians, or professors, to be sure, but the list of acceptable jobs for women had lengthened.

World War I also provided women with the means to finally achieve suffrage. Groups such as the National American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Carrie Chapman Catt, enthusiastically joined the war effort, thereby intertwining patriotism and women’s rights. After the House of Representatives passed the women’s suffrage amendment in January 1918, President Wilson told the nation, “We have made partners of the women in this war. Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?” (James and Wells, 67-68). True political equality did not result from the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment—very few female candidates were elected in the 1920s—but, in the words of Allen, “the winning of the suffrage had its effect. It consolidated woman’s position as man’s equal” (96).

The 1920s also brought American women increased personal and sexual freedoms. As the United States steadily urbanized—for the first time more than half of all Americans lived in cities—women could escape the yoke of parental control or repressive marriage by moving into
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