Unsung Heroes of the 1920s

The 1920s were full of fascinating women you may not be familiar with. Many trailblazing women haven’t been memorialized as earnestly as their male peers, so let me introduce you to some unsung heroes of the Roaring 20s.


Olive Thomas

Photography By Krisleen

Although her life came to an end just as the 1920s was coming alive, Olive Thomas created a celebrity stir that has never quite settled. After her start as a model and Ziegfeld Girl, Olive began her career as a silent film actress. She added over 20 movies to her repertoire and portrayed the first Flapper Girl on screen in the 1920 film The Flapper. Men worshiped at her feet and for American gals, she was the first “it girl.” Olive was a small-town girl who became a household name during a time when women were beginning to see new futures and new possibilities opening up for them. 

Sadly, Thomas drank her husband’s syphilis medication while on vacation in Paris and died five days later. Her passing sparked controversy and gave the US its first celebrity scandal. 

Josephine Baker

Photography By Krisleen

If you think Lady Gaga’s meat dress was a completely innovative idea, then you haven’t heard of Josephine Baker and her banana skirt. In an attempt to make her days of labor and racism tolerable, young Baker began performing short routines on the street for money, and at the age of only 13 traveled to New York by herself, finding work in some of the first Broadway plays to feature black performers. 

Not only did she entertain her audiences with her quirky dance moves, but during a 1926 jazz musical she made her stage appearance in nothing more than a skirt made of rubber bananas and jewelry strategically covering her breasts (which has been memorialized by both Diana Ross and Beyonce.)

Baker was also a courageous civil rights activist, the first black woman to star in a motion picture, and (I hope you’re sitting down) a spy during WWII. She couldn’t breathe without breaking social norms and has left a revolutionary legacy for women of all colors. 

Cleo Epps – “Queen of the Bootleggers”

Photography By Krisleen

Our third 1920s goddess rose to fame right in the middle of prohibition, because why should the menfolk have all the organized crime fun? Cleo Epps was just a typical Arkansas teacher before her husband’s drinking got in the way of running his bootlegging business. She took over, divorced him, and quickly became known as the Queen of the Bootleggers. She was a quick-witted businesswoman in a male-dominated field and amassed a ridiculous amount of wealth quite quickly. 

Unfortunately, her dealings with the Dixie Mafia probably led to her demise… as she was discovered under a pile of rocks in the septic tank of an abandoned house when she was 60. She is quoted as saying, “I never sold a bottle of whiskey in my life. All I did was drive it across state lines.” Kind, motherly, and sober, she is still known as one of prohibition’s most notorious criminals. 

These are only some of the women who made the waves that continue to push forth progress today. Their activism and innovation created change and inspiration that we can still look up to them today.

Love the 1920s? Catch Part 1 and Part 2 of the series!

Share This Blog Post


Recent Posts

What’s Your Boudoir Personality?

Sign up for our newsletter to get the quiz to find your boudoir personality.