Traditionalism and Modernity in the 1920s

U.S. History II Standard 12


Analyze primary sources to develop and argument about how the conflict between traditionalism and modernity manifested itself in the major societal trends and events in the first two decades of the 20th century 


Image by Chris Munch


Image by Chris Munch 

Focus Question: How did traditionalism and modernity interact throughout the 1920s?


Topics on the Page


Overview of The Roaring Twenties



Prohibition, the 18th and 21st Amendments



Prohibition and Music Lesson Plan


The Harlem Renaissance


Women's Roles and Women's Suffrage




The Scopes Trial



The First Red Scare



The Rise of the Automobile


external image StateLibQld_1_95492_Out_driving_in_an_early_Linon_motor_car_in_Ipswich.jpg



Cover of the 1922 Edition of Tales of the Jazz Age
Cover of the 1922 Edition of Tales of the Jazz Age



In the aftermath of World War I, many Americans desired to return to a state of "normalcy." More than ever, many Americans clung to their traditions in the hopes of restoring their pre-WWI societies. Part of this trend was a fear of the "unknown," from groups like immigrants, minorities, radicals to new scientific discoveries. Yet America was facing it's strongest economy ever, thus a rapidly modernizing society. Therefore, there developed a conflict between those would cling to religion, racism and nostalgic perceptions of the past and those who were engaging in cultural change.

Click here for Warren G. Harding's 1920 "Return to Normalcy" speech in Boston.

The "Roaring Twenties"


The term "Roaring Twenties" is used to describe this period of social change, characterized by Jazz music, carefree consumer behavior and bathtub gin.

Visit "Clash of Cultures" which contains sections on Prohibition, The New Women, the Scopes Trial, Anti-Immigration and the KKK.


Click here for a game on the Roaring Twenties.


external image Beautiful_red_apple.jpg  The Great Gatsby: Primary Sources from the Roaring Twenties from the Library of Congress.


Click here for a 15 minute video on the Roaring Twenties.

See here for a "Crash Course" video on the Roaring 20s


external image Weinold_Reiss_-_Drawing_in_two_colors.jpg

Harlem Renaissance & The Jazz Age


According to Paul Reuben of the Perspectives in American Literature website,


the "Harlem Renaissance (HR) is the name given to the period from the end of World War I and through the middle of the 1930s Depression, during which a group of talented African-American writers produced a sizable body of literature in the four prominent genres of poetry, fiction, drama, and essay."

A lesson plan on the Harlem Renaissance can be found here.

Influential Figures of the Harlem Renaissance include:







See a Crash Course Video on Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance

Click here for The Harlem Renaissance a multimedia website from John Carroll University focusing on education, social reform, entertainers, literature, politics, religion and philosophy of the time.

Click here for a quizlet vocab set on the Harlem Renaissance and the Roaring Twenties.

Click here for a Guide to Harlem Renaissance Materials from the Library of Congress.

See here to watch a CSPAN talk on the Harlem Renaissance with Emily Bernard

Changing Roles for Women



Stylish flapper girl smoking a cigarette
Stylish flapper girl smoking a cigarette


World War I required the young, male labor force of the United States to enlist in the armed forces, requiring women to take up many traditionally male jobs.

This Harvard collection contains a wide array of primary sources documenting the role of women in the American economy from 1800-1930.





1917 plitical cartoon about female suffrage
1917 political cartoon about female suffrage


Women's Suffrage

In 1920, the United States ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. This was achieved after almost a century of hard-fought battles by passionate women and their male allies.

"Don't Forget to be a Good.Boy". Harry T. Burn's Letter from Mom and the Ratification of the 19th Amendment in Tennessee

Link to The Vote That Led to the 19th Amendment

Visit here for the National Archives image of the amendment (as well as related teaching materials).

It is important to note that the effects of the 19th Amendment were not immediately felt, but that the women's movements in the 1920s laid the foundation for social change in the following decades.

Click here to learn more about women's activism and the Progressive Movement.

For a video on women's suffrage click here.

To learn more about Suffrage from the perspective of women of color click here and click here to read about how "Racism Tainted Women's Suffrage"

For a lesson plan on how to approach the subject of race and the temperance movement click here and for more comprehensive and general resources on how to approach race in the classroom click here


external image Coleman-Bessie_01.jpg

See Bessie Coleman Historical Biography page



Xenophobia and the Red Scare

external image Close_the_gate_-_First_Red_Scare_political_cartoon.jpg
The xenophobia of the 1920’s led to anti-immigrant legislation.

Link to The Trial of Sacco & Vanzetti


First Red Scare



The Palmer Raids

For more, see The Palmer Raids with links to key primary sources

external image Portrait_Emma_Goldman.jpg

Emma Goldman

Following the Palmer raids, several hundred immigrants who were thought to be communists were shipped to Russia on a boat known as the “Soviet Ark.”

Anarchism and Other Essays (1910)

The Boston Police Strike of 1919

Image to the right shows Governor and future president Calvin Coolidge inspecting troops during the Boston Police Strike.

external image Coolidge_inspects_militia.jpg

Background Information
In 1919, 1,117 officers of the Boston Police force (made up of 1,544 men) went on strike. The police officers wanted better pay, shorter hours, and better working conditions.

The Police Commissioner, Edwin U. Curtis issued an order that "no members of the force shall join or belong to any organization, club, or body outside the department."

For connections to the Red Scare, see the Boston Police Strike.

See also, Russell, Francis The Strike That Made a President from Web site.


Racial and ethnic tensions during the 1920’s made life difficult for African-Americans and immigrants. The KKK had become a major force in politics. There is a misperception that the Klan was mainly active in the South during reconstruction. However, at that point they had to be a secret society. In the 1920s they took on a much more public role. For example, in 1922 Oregon elected a Klansman – Walter M. Pierce - to the governorship.



For More Information:

Explore the Sinking of The Titanic for information about its impact on people's thinking about technology.

Schoenherr, Steve Red Scare 1919. Retrieved April 26, 2007, from Steve Schoenherr Home Page Web site:

South Dakota Department of Education, Retrieved April 26, 2007, from The 1920's Web site:

Boston Police Officers Strike. Retrieved March 26th, 2008 from:

Red Scare. Retrieved March 26th, 2008 from:

Sacco and Vanzetti. Retrieved March 26th, 2008 from: