The Year Was 1920

The year was 1920 and it marked the beginning of the “roaring twenties.” It was an age of flappers and jazz music, of Bertha Mekalski Szucsbootlegging and speakeasies.

It was the beginning of an era that redefined gender roles. Women were asserting their independence and with the passage of the 19th Amendment on August 26, all American women were guaranteed the right to vote. Dress styles were more revealing and young women shocked older generations by cutting their hair into short “bobs,” a controversial style that some people associated with immorality, smoking, and drinking. To learn more about flappers, see the website, The Jazz Age: Flapper Culture and Style.

For the first time, more Americans were living in urban areas than in rural areas. With the beginning of Prohibition on January 16, cities found themselves home to a growing number of “speakeasies,” places where patrons could get a drink, provided they knew the password, handshake, or other code required for entrance. Ironically, Prohibition ended up having a reverse effect in many areas. In Cleveland, there were 1,200 legal bars in existence before Prohibition, as opposed to an estimated 3,000 speakeasies by 1923.

Bathtub gin and moonshine were made at home and mobsters found profit in rum-running and in supplying liquor to the speakeasies. As the crime syndicates became more involved in this lucrative business, violence increased as the various underworld enterprises fought for turf. Mob kingpins like Al Capone and Bugsy Moran gained notoriety in Chicago as archrivals. The FBI files on some of the better known gangsters of the era can be found on the FBI website.

Jazz fans flocked to “Black and Tans,” clubs where blacks and whites mingled to hear music and dance, in a mix of cultures that was an extreme rarity for that time period.

In Ireland, the “Black and Tans” referred to former soldiers sent from Britain to support the Royal Irish Constabulatory.  The Irish War of Independence was claiming victims on both sides, and the year 1920 is remembered sadly as the year of the first “Bloody Sunday.” On that day, a dozen British agents were killed, and later more violence would erupt at a football game at Croke Park, where fourteen people were killed and sixty-five were injured.

In post-WWI Europe, 1920 was a period of ongoing adjustment and reconstruction. Poland was fighting for its freedom in the Polish-Russian War, which had begun in 1918. Polish immigrants in the U.S. who had been recruited to serve in “Haller’s Army“ during WWI were a part of this fight for freedom. The Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA) has a database of the recruitment papers on its website. The Polish defeated the Russian army in August during the Battle of Warsaw, and an Armistice was signed in October, ending the fighting. Then, a treaty was signed in 1921 that would last until 1939.

For more information on the decade that followed, check out The 1920s Experience.

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2 thoughts on “The Year Was 1920

  1. ” more violence would erupt at a football game at Croke Park, where fourteen people were killed ”

    I guess that’s one way of putting it. Or whitewashing it. Another would be to say the British rolled into the stadium in their little tanks and opened fire on innocent citizens sitting watching a football game.

  2. Pingback: Back to School » Blog Archive » Fashion in the Jazz Era

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