top of page

1920s History

The 1920s was a time of great change, great trial, great success, and great setback.  Below is some notable historical facts from the time period to help you interact with your world.  In addition to the below information, some useful general information about the era can be found HERE

Gay Culture in the 1920s

"Nearly half of those attending the event, reported the New York Age, appeared to be “men of the class generally known as ‘fairies,’ and many Bohemians from the Greenwich Village section their gorgeous evening gowns, wigs and powdered faces were hard to distinguish from many of the women.”


The tradition of masquerade and civil balls, more commonly known as drag balls, had begun back in 1869 within Hamilton Lodge, a black fraternal organization in Harlem. By the mid-1920s, at the height of the Prohibition era, they were attracting as many as 7,000 people of various races and social classes—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight alike."

“In the late 19th century, there was an increasingly visible presence of gender-non-conforming men who were engaged in sexual relationships with other men in major American cities,” says Chad Heap, a professor of American Studies at George Washington University and the author of Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940.

In addition to these groups, whom social reformers in the early 1900s would call “male sex perverts,” a number of nightclubs and theaters were featuring stage performances by female impersonators; these spots were mainly located in the Levee District on Chicago’s South Side, the Bowery in New York City and other largely working-class neighborhoods in American cities.

By the 1920s, gay men had established a presence in Harlem and the bohemian mecca of Greenwich Village (as well as the seedier environs of Times Square), and the city’s first lesbian enclaves had appeared in Harlem and the Village. Each gay enclave, wrote George Chauncey in his book Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, had a different class and ethnic character, cultural style and public reputation.

Direct Text Sourced from the History Channel Website.  Read this and more HERE

Screenshot 2022-02-11 231129.png

Female Empowerment & Suffragettes

"The decade kicked off with passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave white women the vote. Women also joined the workforce in increasing numbers, participated actively in the nation’s new mass consumer culture, and enjoyed more freedom in their personal lives. Despite the heady freedoms embodied by the flapper, real liberation and equality for women remained elusive in the 1920s, and it would be left to later generations of women to fully benefit from the social changes the decade set in motion."

"Women move to cities and into the workforce, but stayed in traditional 'women’s roles.'
The flapper was born out of a growing landscape in America. By 1920, for the first time in the nation’s history, more Americans (51 percent) were living in cities rather than in rural areas. As part of the nation's urbanization and economic growth, more and more women were entering the workforce. By 1929, more than a quarter of all women, and more than half of single women, were gainfully employed."

Direct Text Sourced from the History Channel Website.  Read this and more HERE

The Harlem Rennaissance

"By 1920, some 300,000 African Americans from the South had moved north, and Harlem was one of the most popular destinations for these families.

This considerable population shift resulted in a Black Pride movement with leaders like Du Bois working to ensure that Black Americans got the credit they deserved for cultural areas of life. Two of the earliest breakthroughs were in poetry, with Claude McKay’s collection Harlem Shadows in 1922 and Jean Toomer’s Cane in 1923. Civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of An Ex-Colored Man in 1912, followed by God’s Trombones in 1927, left their mark on the world of fiction.

Novelist and du Bois protege Jessie Redmon Fauset's 1924 novel There Is Confusion explored the idea of Black Americans finding a cultural identity in a white-dominated Manhattan. Fauset was literary editor of the NAACP magazine The Crisis and developed a magazine for Black children with Du Bois."

"The music that percolated in and then boomed out of Harlem in the 1920s was jazz, often played at speakeasies offering illegal liquor. Jazz became a great draw for not only Harlem residents, but outside white audiences also.

Some of the most celebrated names in American music regularly performed in Harlem—Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Fats Waller and Cab Calloway, often accompanied by elaborate floor shows. Tap dancers like John Bubbles and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson were also popular."

Direct Text Sourced from the History Channel Website.  Read this and more HERE

Asian Americans in the early 20th Century

"In 1906, the great San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fire destroyed birth and immigration records, allowing many Chinese to claim American birth and thus citizenship. Because the Chinese Exclusion Act allowed the children of citizens to migrate, many Chinese men migrated as "paper sons." Not actually related, they claimed kinship on paper only.

As a result of those practices, in 1910, the Angel Island detention facility in San Francisco Bay began to detain and interrogate Chinese immigrants. Over the next 30 years, approximately 175,000 were incarcerated and held, some for up to two years. A photograph shows the examination in the main building of this facility. The detention center was finally abandoned in 1940.

Throughout the early 20th century, Chinese Americans continued to put down roots in their communities. Photographs from the time show businesses thriving: the shelves of San Francisco's Sam Hop Company are filled and stacked to the ceiling; a merchant has an abacus to do his accounts; and restaurateur Tom Mah — the inventor of chop suey — poses In Los Angeles' Chinatown. They also show family life: a man proudly holds a baby (perhaps his grandchild), and children ride bicycles..."

Direct Text Sourced from the Callisphere Website.  Read this and more HERE


"Both federal and local government struggled to enforce Prohibition over the course of the 1920s. Enforcement was initially assigned to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and was later transferred to the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prohibition, or Prohibition Bureau. In general, Prohibition was enforced much more strongly in areas where the population was sympathetic to the legislation–mainly rural areas and small towns–and much more loosely in urban areas. Despite very early signs of success, including a decline in arrests for drunkenness and a reported 30 percent drop in alcohol consumption, those who wanted to keep drinking found ever-more inventive ways to do it. The illegal manufacturing and sale of liquor (known as “bootlegging”) went on throughout the decade, along with the operation of “speakeasies” (stores or nightclubs selling alcohol), the smuggling of alcohol across state lines and the informal production of liquor (“moonshine” or “bathtub gin”) in private homes.

In addition, the Prohibition era encouraged the rise of criminal activity associated with bootlegging. The most notorious example was the Chicago gangster Al Capone, who earned a staggering $60 million annually from bootleg operations and speakeasies. Such illegal operations fueled a corresponding rise in gang violence, including the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929, in which several men dressed as policemen (and believed to be have associated with Capone) shot and killed a group of men in an enemy gang."

Direct Text Sourced from the Callisphere Website.  Read this and more HERE

Corrupt Government

"The Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s shocked Americans by revealing an unprecedented level of greed and corruption within the federal government. The scandal involved ornery oil tycoons, poker-playing politicians, illegal liquor sales, a murder-suicide, a womanizing president and a bagful of bribery cash delivered on the sly. In the end, the scandal would empower the Senate to conduct rigorous investigations into government corruption. It also marked the first time a U.S. cabinet official served jail time for a felony committed while in office.

Before the Watergate Scandal, the Teapot Dome Scandal was regarded as the most sensational example of high-level corruption in the history of U.S. politics.

Albert Fall, a former Secretary of the Interior, was charged with accepting bribes from oil companies in exchange for exclusive rights to drill for oil on federal land. The sites included land near a teapot-shaped outcrop in Wyoming known as Teapot Dome, and two other government-owned sites in California named Elk Hills and Buena Vista Hills."

Direct Text Sourced from the Callisphere Website.  Read this and more HERE


"The Golden Age of Hollywood began with the silent movie era (though some people say it started at the end of the silent movie age). Dramatic films such as D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) and comedies such as The Kid (1921) starring Charlie Chaplin were popular nationwide. Soon, movie stars such as Chaplin, the Marx Brothers and Tallulah Bankhead were adored everywhere.

With the introduction of movies with sound, Hollywood producers churned out Westerns, musicals, romantic dramas, horror films and documentaries. Studio movie stars were even more idolized, and Hollywood increased its reputation as the land of affluence and fame.

During World War I, after President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany, the Big Five jumped on the political-propaganda bandwagon.

Often under pressure and guidance from the Wilson administration, they produced educational shorts and reels on war preparedness and military recruitment. They also lent out their wide roster of popular actors to promote America’s war efforts."

Direct Text Sourced from the Callisphere Website.  Read this and more HERE

The First Female NYPD Detective

"But when news of a bank heist made national headlines, vexing police officials, the department asked Goodwin to pose as a maid and infiltrate a seedy boardinghouse. Her mission: Find enough evidence to arrest the suspect, a gangster named Eddie (the Boob) Kinsman, who frequented the quarters to see his sweetheart, Swede Annie.

Goodwin donned a ragged outfit, affected an Irish brogue and began snooping between scrubbing floors and cooking meals.

Her information led to Kinsman’s arrest, and the department rewarded Goodwin with a first-grade detective shield, making her its first female detective.

With that, Goodwin became “the best known woman sleuth in the United States,” according to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1915 ."


"“There is many a 6-foot detective with a gun on his hip who does less valuable work for his $3,300 a year than Mrs. Goodwin, a slight, quick moving little woman whose brain more than keeps pace with her body,” The New York Herald wrote in 1921."

"In the 1920s, Goodwin helped oversee the police department’s newly created Women’s Bureau to handle cases involving prostitutes, runaways, truants and victims of domestic violence, Whalen said. And in 1924 she helped secure several high-profile arrests by working with prosecutors to investigate fraudulent medical practices."

Direct Text Sourced from the NY Times Website.  Read this and more HERE

bottom of page