Were the 1920s a period of cultural as well as political conservatism

The US enjoyed much prosperity after World War I and throughout the 1920s until the great depression of 1929. The decade was full of optimism and was termed the ‘roaring twenties’. The decade was marked by conservatism on both the political and cultural level. however it can be shown that there was liberal ideology that also played a part in this historical era. After the war there was a rising intolerance to difference, waspification was at the forefront of a lot of ideology culturally and politically, restrictive immigration laws and prohibition all marked the era. The decade was seen as a decade of serious cultural conflict.On the 18th August 1920 Tennessee became the last state that was required to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment thus giving women the right to vote. A new woman was born and it became more acceptable socially for women to smoke and drink openly in public. It was fashionable for women to cut their hair short, wear makeup which had always been deemed to mean a woman was loose and take risks. These women were known as flappers and jazz was the music that they danced to, a sound that the older generation considered to be wild. In the May edition of the Atlantic Monthly it was written "Flappers trot like foxes, limp like lame ducks, one-step like cripples, and all to the barbaric yawp of strange instruments which transform the whole scene into a moving-picture of a fancy ball in bedlam."
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The war had generated a generation of men and women who broke free from social norms

1 Baughman, Judith S., ed. American Decades: 1920-1929. New York: Manly, Inc., 1996.
and values finding it difficult to return to structured conservative life.

‘They found themselves expected to settle down into the humdrum routine of American life as if nothing had happened, to accept the moral dicta of elders who seemed to them still to be living in a Pollyanna land of rosy ideals which the war had killed for them. They couldn’t do it, and they very disrespectfully said so.’2

The liberation of the flappers was a stark contrast to the conservative cultural nature of the times. Conservatism was at the forefront of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK), an extreme right movement that encouraged racial discrimination and continues to do so to this day. The KKK originated in the late 1800s and rose again to acute heights in the 1920s.

After WWI the economy was booming and the Great Migration of Southern blacks and whites began. The KKK grew rapidly in reaction to the immigrants and migrants. It was enhanced through the labor tensions occurring as men returning from the war were attempting not only to new social norms but reentering the workforce. The KKK a white supremacy organization reacted aggressively and advocated racism, anti-communism- anti-Catholicism, nativism and ant-Semitism. Lynching’ and violent attacks on houses of those they opposed was at a height including intimidation through ceremonial cross burning. The KKK used its far right ideology in a tradition of lawlessness.

2 Allen, Frederick Lewis. Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties. New York: Harper &amp. Brothers Publishers, 1931.

The KKK peaked during the 1920s with approximately 4 – 5 million men who believed in this extreme conservative ideology. 3

William J Simmons founded the second KKK in 1915 and under his leadership Klansmen became accuser, judge and jury, tarring and feathering Negroes and white men and women if they were any less conservative than their ideals. Jewish shop keepers were tortured being accused of international financial conspiracies and Catholics were accused of conspiring against the US with their Roman Catholic beliefs.4 The KKK took waspification to the extreme. The organization dwindled with the arrival of the Great depression in 1929 as members stopped paying their dues in a time of financial insecurity