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American History 2--HIST 2112 (OER): Chapter 22: The New Era

American Yawp Chapter Summary

On a sunny day in early March of 1921, Warren G. Harding took the oath to become the twenty-ninth President of the United States. He had won a landslide election by promising a “return to normalcy.” “Our supreme task is the resumption of our onward, normal way,” he declared in his inaugural address. Two months later, he said, “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration.” The nation still reeled from the shock of World War I, the explosion of racial violence and political repression in 1919, and, bolstered by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, a lingering “Red Scare.”

More than 115,000 American soldiers had lost their lives in barely a year of fighting in Europe. Then, between 1918 and 1920, nearly 700,000 Americans died in a flu epidemic that hit nearly twenty percent of the American population. Waves of labor strikes, meanwhile, hit soon after the war. Radicals bellowed. Anarchists and others sent more than thirty bombs through the mail on May 1, 1919. After wartime controls fell, the economy tanked and national unemployment hit twenty percent. Farmers’ bankruptcy rates, already egregious, now skyrocketed. Harding could hardly deliver the peace that he promised, but his message nevertheless resonated among a populace wracked by instability.

The 1920s, of course, would be anything but “normal.” The decade so reshaped American life that it came to be called by many names: the New Era, the Jazz Age, the Age of the Flapper, the Prosperity Decade, and, most commonly, the Roaring Twenties. The mass production and consumption of automobiles, household appliances, film, and radio fueled a new economy and new standards of living, new mass entertainment introduced talking films and jazz while sexual and social restraints loosened. But at the same time, many Americans turned their back on political and economic reform, denounced America’s shifting demographics, stifled immigration, retreated toward “old time religion,” and revived with millions of new members the Ku Klux Klan. On the other hand, many Americans fought harder than ever for equal rights and cultural observers noted the appearance of “the New Woman” and “the New Negro.” Old immigrant communities that had predated new immigration quotas, meanwhile, clung to their cultures and their native faiths. The 1920s were a decade of conflict and tension. But whatever it was, it was not “normalcy.” Read more from Chapter 22 of the American Yawp.

Things to Consider

Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. What factors led to the success of the Harlem Renaissance?
  2. What was the big issues at stake in the Scopes Monkey Trial?
  3. What arguments did Women put forward for suffrage?
  4. How might celebrities be consumed in the 1920s?
  5. What factors contributed to the formation of a consumer society?
  6. In what ways was the 1920s an “Age of Contradictions” in the United States?

Learning Objectives and Assessment

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Distinguish between primary and secondary materials and decide when to use each
  • Identify key events that define change over time in a particular place or region, and identify how change occurs over time
  • Recognize a range of viewpoints in historical narratives
  • Distinguish between historical facts and historical interpretations
  • Evaluate a variety of historical sources for their credibility, position, significance, and perspective

Course Objectives

  • The student will understand the development and impact of main ideologies, reform movements, and growth of international influence in late Nineteenth Century- early Twentieth Century World War I years.
  • The student will understand the social, political, and economic developments and impact of the post-WWI Interwar Years and the Great Depression on the U.S.
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