You walk into a decade of bobbed hair, prosperity, jazz, and dance marathons. It’s rowdy and exciting and you’re about to settle in for a wild night when an unwelcome guest barges in… prohibition.
Who invited that kid?
Prohibition: The Noble Experiment
The 1920s was gearing up to be an era of freedom and innovation, so why of all times did the United States institute a ban on alcohol? Also known as The Noble Experiment, the 18th Amendment to the US constitution was largely fueled by the efforts of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League, who had concluded that alcohol was to blame for literally every social problem. It didn’t ban the consumption of alcohol, but the manufacturing, selling and transporting of it. Saloons across the country closed their doors and brewing companies found creative ways to stay in business by producing soft drinks, milk, and a myriad of non-alcoholic products.
Sounds like a lame party, I know, but don’t leave yet! We have a very special guest about to arrive that all you ladies will think is the cat’s meow. Let’s all welcome the speakeasy.
It may seem like an odd concept now, but prior to prohibition women and alcohol didn’t intermingle. Victorian-era morals were still hanging around, making saloon establishments for men only. Of course, what the ladies consumed in the privacy of their own homes was acceptable, but drinking alcohol in public was completely taboo. If you were a woman and wanted to enter a saloon, you had better be an employee or a prostitute. Some areas even criminalized women who were caught drinking in public spaces.
As saloons were forced to close up shop, private liquor stores and nightclubs started opening in backrooms and basements across the country. Patrons were told to “speak easy” about these spaces in public, coining the term that is now synonymous with prohibition. Since they were already illegal and hidden from view, the modern woman claimed her space at the table with the men. Hip “flapper girls” bobbed their hair, shortened their skirts, and joined the roar of the era as they redefined their roles in society. Many women even went into business as bootleggers, selling and transporting alcohol for a living. Guys and gals were able to mingle and date, instead of traditional courtship, further expanding the freedom for women to make their own life choices.
Prohibition may have crashed the party for 13 years, but in the end, it granted women many freedoms they deserved. Let’s raise a glass to all the ladies in the house. Cheers!
Continue through the 1920s and read Part 3: Unsung Heroes of the 1920s. If you missed Part 1 of the 1920s series, you can read it here: The Roaring 20s: A Favorite Decade of American History.