Was it the Booze or the Social Politics That Defined the 1920’s?

Was it the Booze or the Social Politics That Defined the 1920’s?

Yes, is the short answer.  Whether the social revolution led to Prohibition or Prohibition led to a social revolution is a chicken and egg question that we will never be able to answer.  American history is full of timeless sagas where a social uprising led to an uprising by the patriarchy and whether it’s the 1920’s, the 1960’s, or dare I say, the 2020’s (too soon?), the concept of a social revolution and government overreach are so tightly woven together we can’t separate the two one hundred years later.

When World War I ended, Americans began to change. Women had just won the hard fought right to vote and wanted to cut their hair, raise their hemlines and work.  Men wanted to celebrate surviving the war, and the morals of the country might have just been allowed to change if the government had gotten out of its own way.  Change, though, is often uncomfortable, exceedingly so if you happen to be the people in power.  Enter Prohibition and the Volstead Act, which even then was admittedly, a great experiment.  The experiment likely, though, was more about the changing social norms than the nation’s rampant alcohol use.

The country was growing increasingly more liberal about sex, including gay relationships and had begun to evolve—pun absolutely intended—when the Scopes monkey trial took center stage in 1925.  In another stroke of genius by a government attempting to legislate the morals of the country, Tennessee passed a law prohibiting teachers from teaching evolution.  The resulting prosecution of twenty-four year old high school teacher, John Scopes, was a culmination of everything that was happening socially to the country.  The ACLU and Clarence Darrow represented Scopes while William Jennings Bryant, a well known Christian crusader represented the State of Tennessee.   How’s your high school history right now?  Do you know who won the trial?  If you guessed Scopes because you learned about evolution in your own high school science classes you are wrong.  No one remembers that Scopes was convicted and fined and that the law stood in Tennessee for another four decades.  But people do remember the war against changing social norms, the battle for moral authority, and the 1920’s “trial of the century.”

Crazy, right?  That legislatures would enact statutes to reign in changing social norms?  Did you know that in Maryland, professional sports teams cannot begin a game prior to 1PM on a Sunday?  In Bergen County, New Jersey you are not allowed to sell electronics, clothing or furniture on Sundays.  Until August 1, 2019 when the law finally expires, North Dakota doesn’t allow the sale of most goods between midnight and noon on Sunday.  Yes, this means Walmart is closed in North Dakota during those hours.  Why?  Because Sundays are a day of rest and the state can’t mandate that you use your free time to go to church, but it can prohibit you from buying stuff you don’t need at Walmart until church has ended.

Maybe that’s why this tour sells out on Sundays?!

Written by Amy Williams

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