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.

Lying Tongues

Before the spring carnival, the worst thing that happened to my family was the amputation of Choppers’ leg five years before. Then, after the three of us adapted to one less appendage, drastic change returned to the easy kind. Like cutting my hair into a fashionable bob and wearing shorter dresses. Or Miss Helen coming up with another name for her moonshine and having to glue new labels on all the Mason jars.

Anticipated changes, like spring turning into summer, were rehearsed, old friends. So when the 1928 March page was forever ripped off our Coca-Cola wall calendar, the upcoming months were supposed to be a blueprint of the ones before. I thought I knew what to expect and ignorantly planned accordingly.

I pictured Betty, Mama’s best friend, showing me how to bloom wild and carefree like the Texas bluebonnets and Indian blankets. And, like the wildflowers, Betty would provide our cross timber and prairie land with much-needed color. She would continue to add pizazz to our small town and laugh at the rolling eyes of gossipers.

I believed Mama would drive us to Mineral Wells to picture shows, and Charlene and I to church picnics. While amongst the not-so-holy-rollers, we would place bets on which Methodist would be the first to get ossified on Miss Helen’s moonshine. Then we’d up the ante and guess which upstanding churchgoer would be first to holler at Sheriff Gunny Gibbons to “keep up the good work” — which really meant, “thanks for ignoring prohibition.”

Summer would turn into a heat that bore into our Texas bones like a drill pumping for oil. Except for keeping an eye out for rattlers, the heat wouldn’t stop us. The Brazos River     was at our ready for splashing and squealing longenough to bring our boy talk to a brief halt. And on those warm summer evenings, the fireflies would almost provide us enough light for reading. These were my expectations, easy days when a calamity meant the latest Sears and Roebuck catalog was overdue on its delivery.

I counted on the everyday rhythm of sounds that, so deeply rooted in my marrow, had synced with myheartbeat. Miss Helen’s moonshine distillery thumping and hissing next door. Her son, Scooter, calling out to me, “It’s gonna grow, Emma June,” after he buried one of her kitchen utensils or some other what-not in their yard. Jazz music floating out from our Victor Victrola when Mama played her favorite records. The steady ticking of our grandfather clock. Cricket music soothing me to sleep. The hazy rumbling away of Ol’ Bess as Daddy left for the dairy each morning before the first rooster crowed. All familiar, promising sounds.

But, as I wore naive like the latest fashion, all normalcy came to a grinding halt. The crickets stopped chirping. The clock inside our once-respectable house stood still and silent. Because the snakes didn’t wait for summer to coil at our feet. They came on carnival night, flicked their lying tongues, and took Mama with them.

(Excerpt from Distilling Secrets by Carolyn Dennis-Willingham)

photo image credit

Facetiming a very old friend

#RoaringTwenties #Writing

What was it like in the 20s one-hundred years ago?

Was life more simple then

when it was finally acceptable to apply makeup in public,

to strap a flask of moonshine beneath your dress

and take a sip before voting for the first time?

Did you leave your kitchen (and your new electric icebox) behind,

climb into your new Model T

and rumble off to work outside your home for the first time?

Tell me. How was that new-found freedom?

Did it Roar with jazzy attitude

as you shimmied and twirled

and Charleston-ed your feet toward new opportunities?

I hope so.

You paved the way for me.

The Lone Wolf Trembles

Carla falls into my arms. Her pale face is scratched up and whiter than usual. Her dress is ripped at the bottom. When I hold her, she feels like a stranger.

Remembering how Daddy helped me the night I ran home from Frank’s house, I steer her to the kitchen, plunk her on a chair, and hand her a wet rag. She won’t stop crying.

“You going to tell me?” I say.

“Oh, oh, Emma. It was … was just awful …. He.. he…”


Carla blows her nose and looks at me like she remembers us being good friends. “He pinned me down. Said I wanted it. Said I’d been asking for it a long time. But I wasn’t, Emmy. I never asked for that! Never!”

She blows her nose again. Her tears are real, like when we were little girls and Stevie told her she looked like a possum.

“When did this happen?”

“Right after school.” She squeezes my arm. “Sometimes? I feel so lonely without you that I think kissing a boy would take my mind off not being around you and Scooter.”

She’s blaming me for acting like a tart?

“We used to have so much fun. But my parents made me stay away from you.”

I’ll ask her about that later. Right now, I think about jelly-mixing. “What did he do to you? He didn’t, you know …”

She shakes her head and cries again. I count to three. “Then what?” I say.

“He almost did. He pulled up my dress. He, he saw my panties, Emmy, my panties! He would have done more but, but we heard Rachael yelling out for me. She didn’t know I’d gone with him behind the schoolhouse. Anyway, he clamped a hand over my mouth, told me to shut up.” She’s stopped crying, but now she’s shaking like a tornado through a house.


Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket



Words from my Emma June

Eleven year-old Emma June from The Moonshine Thicket says:

And then I remember. Betty had told Mama her husband died. Frank said his Daddy left. Betty Bedford lied to Mama. She’s a low down, no-account, good-for-nothing, loose-knee-ed, tarty, liar-mama.

I picture walking up to Betty’s shabby-shack and knocking out her teeth when she answers the door.”



Daily Prompt: Tart