Those Roaring Women

One-hundred years ago, a sexual revolution took hold and, oh, how those flappers deviated from the norm with their immorality!

After the passage of the 19th Amendment, voting was a powerful incentive to freeing the young woman’s spirit. After they threw away their tight corsets and picked up a voting ballot, they lifted up their skirts to show their rouged knees, and dangled cigarettes from their ruby-red lips. After all, if the Suffragettes could accomplish great deeds by being rebellious and outspoken, so could they.

And, thanks to the African American culture and the Harlem Renaissance, the Jazz Age was born and the music stormed the country with expressive heart-felt tunes. Flappers shimmied with wild abandon.

Flappers could move freely around the dance floor in loose-fit clothing swinging to the Charleston, Fox Trot and Jitterbug while drinking illegal gin.

Young women not only drank and smoked, they drove motorcars, attended petting parties and dated more than one man at a time. They began to believe they had control over their own bodies. Birth control, at least for the more privileged, was becoming more widely available. This allowed women the freedom to explore their sexuality without the worry of pregnancy. Sadly, the less fortunate women suffered from illegal hack-job abortions or unwanted babies.

Conservatives were outraged at the new immorality. To them, this indecency was more dangerous than the Spanish Flu pandemic.They blamed the entertainment industry for promoting books, magazines and motion pictures that reinforced this decadent behavior.

Louise Brooks in “Pandora’s Box” – 1929

Women in general yearned for higher education that would prepare them for a career and make them informed citizens. Although they faced gender and wage inequality, women joined the workforce in droves. They now had the ability to make their own money, and become more independent. They delayed marriage and when they did find a worthy suitor, marriage became more about companionship than financial necessity.

Across the country, women of African American descent, as well as their families, continued to face severe discrimination. Unfortunately, the 19 Amendment did not mean black women had the right to vote. With the exception of California, New York, and Illinois, state laws continued to keep African Americans from the polls through poll taxes and literacy tests. Most black women would wait four decades to gain the right to vote – the Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1965.

Regardless of a flapper’s ethnicity, traditional and conservative society shook their heads at the disgrace.

The Great Depression took away power, not just for women but for everyone. While the flappers may have faded into the background, women in general did not stop their forward momentum towards change. Freedom had been tasted, savored, and remembered.

Fast forward to today, one-hundred years later. Although women have collectively come a long way, they still earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns.

What other comparisons can you draw between the two centuries?

It is Women’s History Month. Let’s celebrate!

Carolyn Dennis-Willingham is the author of three novels including Distilling Lies, a novel set in the 1920’s, available in May 2023.

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