The study of
homemaking, including cooking, needlework, cleaning, and other skills or tasks that
aid in the successful operation of a home and family environment.
Roaring Twenties—a decade with a distinct cultural edge—ideas
about morality and social roles shifted as much as the booming economy. Young women in the 1920s took part
in a liberation of sexuality and education that redefined their generation,
while minority groups such as African Americans and homosexuals began to emerge
from the shadows of traditional American culture.
of the ideas that fueled the change in sexual thought were already floating
around intellectual circles in New York prior to World War I through the
writings of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, physician and social reformer Havelock
Ellis, and feminist Ellen Key. These thinkers asserted that sex was not only
central to the human experience, but also that women were sexual beings with human
impulses and desires just like men, and that restraining these impulses was
self-destructive. By the 1920s, these ideas had filtered into the mainstream of
society, although not without resistance from traditional standard bearers such
as conservative religious leaders and politicians.
1920s saw the emergence of the coed (short for "co-educational") as women began bucking gender stereotypes by attending large state colleges
and universities alongside men. But while these women entered into the
mainstream middle-class experience, including higher education, they largely
remained in gendered roles within society. At school, women typically took
classes such as home economics, referring to the study of
skills and tasks such as cooking, sewing, and cleaning employed in the successful operation of a home. Other courses of the time had titles such as, "Husband
and Wife," "Motherhood," and "The Family as an Economic
Unit." In an increasingly conservative postwar era, it was common for a
young woman to attend college with the intention of finding a suitable husband.
Fueled by ideas of sexual liberation, however, dating underwent major
changes on college campuses. With the advent of the automobile, courtship
occurred in much more private settings than it had within previous generations.
"Petting," or sexual relations without intercourse, became the social
norm for college students.
significant change in the overall behavior of American society began in urban
areas, where minorities were treated with more equality in the 1920s than they
had been accustomed to previously. This was reflected in some of the films of
the decade, as well. Redskin (1929) and Son of the Gods (1929) dealt sympathetically with Native Americans and Asian Americans,
respectively, by rejecting social bias. In movies and on the stage, black and
white players appeared together for the first time, while it became common in nightclubs
to see whites and blacks dancing and dining together.
1920s was also a period of more visibility, and somewhat more acceptance, for
homosexuals. New York, London, Paris, and Berlin were important centers of the
new ethic, and humor was used to assist its acceptability. One popular American
song, "Masculine Women, Feminine Men," was released in 1926 and
recorded by numerous artists of the day.
relative liberalism toward homosexuality was publicly
demonstrated by the actor William Haines, regularly named in newspapers and
magazines as the top male box-office draw, who lived in an openly gay relationship
with his partner, Jimmie Shields. Other popular gay actors and actresses of the
decade included Alla Nazimova and Ramón Novarro. In 1927, movie and stage star Mae
West wrote a play about homosexuality called, "The Drag," which
became a box-office success. West regarded talking about sex as a basic issue
of human rights and was an early advocate of gay
Profound hostility toward homosexuality continued to exist, however,
especially in more remote areas. With the return of a conservative mood in the
1930s, the public once again grew intolerant of homosexuality, and gay actors
were forced to choose between retiring or agreeing to hide their sexuality,
even in the relatively liberal safe haven of Hollywood.