•“The Roaring Twenties”
•“The Era of Wonderful Nonsense”
•“The Decade of the Dollar”
•“The Period of the Psyche”
•“The Dry Decade”
•“The Age of Alcohol and Al Capone”
-Many social changes occurred which caused what has been labeled as a “revolution in manners and morals”.
The decade of the 1920s has many different names such as those listed here. This decade was the interlude between the Great War and the Great Depression. The 20s began with the euphoria of ending World War I, shortly followed by political controversy. Even though the war had ended overseas, there was no plan to convert the economy from military mobilization to peace or incorporating the returning veterans into society.
•Returning veterans competed for jobs
•Workers’ strikes and defeat
•Stock-market crash of 1929
The veterans were now competing with nine million workers, including many women and blacks who had joined the workforce during the war. Since government contracts had been terminated, construction companies planned new buildings and home and factories shifted focus to domestic good orders. All of these changes caused an inflationary boom in 1919 causing higher prices and labor unrest. The inflation prompted four million laborers to go on strike. These strikes failed because of internal division and conflicts, isolation and many other reasons. Also, with the Red Scare sweeping the nation, forces worked against the organized workers and the American Left.
During the 1920s, the economy shifted from the industrial model to a complex, bureaucratic system shaped by important corporations. The large-scale corporate capitalism brought prosperity to most of the American society during this time, but the workplace environment had changed. Now most people worked for large, impersonal firms oriented toward conformity, consumerism, and individual gratification.
As mentioned earlier, this economic shift allowed for widespread prosperity. The years from 1922 to 1929 have been titled “Coolidge prosperity” or the “Golden Glow”. During this time, American amassed two-fifths of the world’s wealth. There were new technologies, power resources and scientific management techniques that helped to create the efficient and mechanized production that thrived during this time.
It seemed as though the prosperity would never come to an end when 1929 rolled around, but during these years America had failed to solve its problems of consumption and distribution. Agriculture, construction and other industries were in decline while the inventories in cars and durable goods were on the rise. Debt was overcoming the nation, and then on October 29th the stock market crashed. In the following four months after the crash, over $40 billion was lost, and the Great Depression had begun.
“A Revolution in Manners & Morals"
•Leading up to 1920s
•Greater number of women workers
•Family and social institutions
In the years leading up to the 1920s, the birth rate fell and the divorce rate decreased. Women were more prominent in the workplace and there was an increase of middle-class women attending college and pursuing professional careers.
These changes led to the idea of the “companionate family” in the 1920s. Instead of a hierarchical and patriarchal structure, this ideal family regarded the husbands and wives as “friends and lovers” while parents and children were viewed as “pals”. The family was now focused on the provision of affections for all members and the nurture and development of children.
With this new idea of the family structure, families were relatively smaller. The younger generations declined in numbers, which meant there were more adults per youth in the nation. There was less pressure for adolescents to take on adult responsibilities, and adults made a greater investment in the nurture of children.
Families reoriented their relationship to the social institutions- the emotional family unit became more separate from other social institutions. The workplace and markets became impersonal, while the family remained personal. Although this shift was occurring, these institutions remained interdependent. The family relied on the productive services of society, and society depended on the family for the expression of emotion and affection.
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Race and Conflict
•Large numbers of immigrants
•Racial and ethnic conflict
•The Red Scare and Ku Klux Klan
During this decade, there was a large amount of immigrants coming to the United States. This caused for a diversified mainstream culture.
As culture was influenced by these diverse groups, many native-born Americans responded with a nativist fear to the increasing diversity. These minorities shared little of the prosperity, and worked in many of the sickest industries, suffering under- and un-employment.
The antialien sentiment that was present during World War I remained, forcing immigrants to conform to Anglo-American type while abandoning their ethnic traditions. This sentiment helped to feed the movements such as the Red Scare and the Ku Klux Klan.
The New Woman
•Strong, independent and accomplished
•Suffrage amendment in 1920
•Personal freedom and equality
The “new woman” was seen as strong, independent and accomplished; a woman who has gone to college and earns her own living; a woman who has opinions. This woman is a passionate person who occupies herself with everything except the things that used to occupy the minds of girls.
These women gained further character with the suffrage amendment in 1920, allowing women to express their opinions on a voting ballot.
The “new woman” coincides with the idea of the flapper, a young woman who flaunted their freedom from convention and constraint in both conduct and dress.
Whether a working woman, a college graduate, or a flapper, the new woman insisted on her right to unrestrained behavior. In general, she sought greater personal freedom and equality with men in her social life.
Leisure and Activities
•Money on leisure activities
•Prohibition and speakeasies
During the 20s, radios, telephones and motion pictures created a mass culture linking Americans more closely than ever before. Money spent on leisure activities such as these rose by 300 percent during the 20s.
Prohibition transformed saloons into speakeasies, causing respectable members of the middle class to partake in activities formerly associated with the working and immigrant classes. Public mingling of genders, classes and ethnic groups challenged older ideas of moral order.
Dancehalls flourished with jazz music and the newest dance styles. These dances included the Shimmy, the Varsity Drag, and the Charleston. Elaborate dance palaces or commercial ballrooms catered to the dressy set and offered safe settings for young men and women to meet without chaperons.
Other fads during this time included flagpole sitting, goldfish swallowing, dance marathons and crossword puzzles.
St. Louis Union Station
St. Louis Union Station is one of the settings of our show. In order for you all to have a better sense of the station and the environment of this show, I have put some pictures on these slides to help orient yourselves to the station. This is the outside of the station. It has a very regal and Romanesque style, almost castle-like. This station cost $6.5 million in the 1890s.
These barrel-vaulted ceilings are 65 feet tall. The station keeps with this same color scheme of deep reds, burnt oranges, gold, greens and creams.
This is a picture of the Midway area of the station. This is the area between the gates to the train shed and headhouse. When the railroad was in full swing, this area would be packed with passengers running to and from the train shed.
The Allegorical Window is one of the most important features in Union Station. This window is positioned above the station’s entryway. The window features three women representing the main U.S. train stations during the 1890s -- New York, St. Louis and San Francisco.
St. Louis Union Station
Railway Age, (The Age of The Railroad, 1922.) Railway Express transported jewelry, money, live birds,
fish, nursery stock, baby chicks, cut flowers, ice cream, and baked goods, as well as musical
instruments for members of “River City’s Boys Band.” Midnight Service Northbound (1932) reduced
lower berth fares to $3.75 or $13.50 for the drawing room aboard the Pullman standard sleeper
Scenic Limited: rail line from St. Louis through the Rockies and Sierra Nevada to San Francisco. 1929.
The American: rail line from St. Louis to New York and NYC on a 23hour
Speakeasy: Saloons, bars, and taverns would provide entertainment such as card games like poker, gin
rummy, billiards, and occasionally prostitution “Babes in cribs upstairs.”
The Union Station was a creation of the St. Louis Terminal Company. A work of monumental authority
and beauty, a work of art, as well as a practical building, massive and medieval like. The majestic design
of its interior paid homage to its castle like structure with its campanile like tower. The station’s
impressive ornate stone façade boasts a range of running decorative figures varying from high to very
low relief. Its 230 foot tower looms over its massive structure from the main entrance on Market Street.
The station also provided an elegant hostel, the Terminal Hotel. 100,000 passengers traveled through
the station daily. The Station was the trading center for economic potential. The Mississippi and Missouri
rivers provided an ideal locale for transportation and shipping. Steamboats crowded its wharfs. It grew to
be one of the busiest stations in the world. The Station offered an “Emigrant Waitingroom”
on the Midway level. For decades the barbershop, shoeshine parlor and tailor shop flourished. Hundreds of
travelers daily patronized these establishments. Tradesmen, haberdashers, stationers, photographers,
“boomer” trainman, and Red Caps. Red Caps worked at the station for years. They might hold jobs as
baggage checkers, gatemen, train callers, clerks, dispatchers, or Harvey girls.
The Midway was the heart of Union Station. ”Apex and terminus once of a human pool.” Enormous
crowds collected in the station’s Midway at night. Trains were stacked behind its various wrought iron
The Grand Hall acted as the principal waiting room for passengers. The Greek columns support the
highly decorative windows bowing in a leaning fashion to the center of the vast room. The elegant
staircase erected in the early 1900’s led from the Grand Hall into the Midway. Union Station formally
opened with a blaze of glory September 1, 1894. The celebration marks the opening of Union Station’s
Grand Hall. Four bands and 200 musician entertained 10,000 people invited to the grand event. Beyond
the west Smoking Room ran the socalled
Whispering Arch: If one placed his ear on its wall on one side of the arch, someone on the other side
could hear his whisper.
Allegorical Maidens: Sculpted mythic figures that adorned the Grand Hall. These seven maidens held
Allegorical Window: mounting the grand staircase to the Grand Hall a paneled mosaic glass window
adorns the walkup.
Three ornate figures etched in the glass, representing three railroads: New York, San Francisco, and St. Louis. St. Louis with the old courthouse stand behind her, is the central
“The railroad station in America is the funnel through which much of our humanity flows in the course of
“These specialized buildings reflect what is required to promote the process of human movement and
progress in general.”
“In this day the railway station is as much the means of entrance and exit to a city as was the bastioned
gate of medieval times. It is therefore intended as a modern elaboration of the feudal gateway.”
“The big stations will have a well stocked cigar counter to serve the many customers, the country depots
will have only a spittoon.”
“The hustle bustle, which is America, can be found there. Railroad stations were really people places….,
and the place to be to see what was happening in the town or city.”
“I remember when I first saw Union Station, in 1919 at age 4. It looked like a castle – and if you looked
way out to the end of the train shed, there could easily have been dungeons there! Inside was the
beautiful divided staircase that the queen probably came down. Did she and the king each have their
own private stairs? At the top was the balcony where you could visualize Ladies in Waiting looking down
on the central court. Looking up, the Ladies could see halls and doors where lesser minions could look
down on them. At the top of the stairs were “private quarters” which at my present age I realize were a
series of very large rooms for the Ladies Lounge. The entry room was for adult women to sit, relax, talk,
or wait with what patience they could muster. Back of that was a room with cribs, and rockers, and
assorted conveniences for women who were traveling with children and needed a home away from
home. The third room, sharing a common wall with the outer lounge, had the plumbing. The very biggest
bathroom a little country girl could imagine. A miracle in white porcelain, complete to the floor tiles, if
recollection serves me.”
“And surely most everyone paid heed to the voice of the train caller, he was louder than my uncle calling
hogs down on his farm.”
“It was of utmost importance to get to the Union Station long enough before departure time to insure a
leisurely visit to the excellent book store under its capacious roof.”
“I remember the shoe shine stands, where experts, skilled with polish and cloth, would make a pair of
dingy brown or black shoes sparkle, while the person attached to the shoes would sit elevated, as if on a
throne, casually perusing a newspaper or magazine.”
Signs: “I am leaving St Louis;” or “Hope to see you soon;” or “We don’t know where we’re going, but
we’re on our way.”
“Images of America, St. Louis Union Station” by Albert Montesi and Richard Deposki.
“St. Louis Union Station, A Place for People, A Place for Trains” by H. Roger Grant, Don L. Hofsommer,
and Osmund Overby.
Research Compilation by Monica DeRee & Elliott Graber