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Social Classes in America 1920s

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Jesse Kempner

on 8 July 2013

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Transcript of Social Classes in America 1920s

Jesse Kempner
The American Dream
- The land of the free
The Upper Classes
Often known as the golden age of America, the 20s was a time for business, innovation and standard of living to boom.

With the ambition to fulfill the American Dream, came the creation of a new type of person, challenging the previous focus on pure Christian morals of the late Victorian era. Many prosperous men and women became snobby, selfish and materialistic. People, particularity among the upper class, became driven by money and wealth, a criticism of the 1920s class system that is further explored, and is a key theme, in Fitzgerald's, The Great Gatsby.

Furthermore, the 1920s was a time of change, not only between the classes, but also within them. The upper class was subsequently split into two; those of old money and those of new.

The 'New Woman'
During the War, the employment of women rose (the jobs left by the young men having to be filled by someone), as well as the levels of education. Women were increasingly receiving a full education, going on to college, inspiring new hope and ideals amongst the feminist movement. The 20s challenged the traditional view of 'the woman', and the expectations of the capability of women were attacked.

The thriving feminist movement, along with the pass of the 19th Amendment, improved the status of women in and amongst different social classes.
The Lower Class

The 'New Negro'
The 'New Negro' movement, or the Harlem Renaissance (1917- 1928), coincided with the the increasing demand for political equality and the raising awareness of social classes throughout the 1920s.

When African-American soldiers returned to the US after the war, there was a regenerated level of anger at still present segregation and prejudice in America, compared to the rest of the world. Those who had deployed to fight in Europe, in countries such as France, had been introduced to new freedoms and respect that had previously been unimaginable; a new era for change was imminent.

This new widespread energy for opportunity and equality opened a door for some African Americans to become respected among the highest of classes. The demand for new popular music, such as Blues and jazz, also allowed many Black Americans to flourish in employment options surrounding the Arts- writing, music

Social Classes in 1920s America
The perception of ' The American Dream' exploded in post- war America. Soldiers were returning home from war, bringing with them hope and new ideas, closely reflecting the original 'Dream' originating from the early 16th century when immigrants from all over Europe crossed the sea in search of liberty, happiness and prosperity. The country, in both cases, represented a new start and was a symbol for success. The American Dream conceptualizes that a richer, fuller life can be achieved by anyone if they work hard enough, and that equal opportunities are available to everyone, regardless of wealth, class or family history.

1920s America was a time of prosperity and economic growth. Fashion, architecture, innovation and business was thriving and more people than ever before, were given the chance to live the real 'American Dream'.


Despite the common media portrayal of the 1920s being the golden era of prosperity, speakeasies and flamboyant parties, this was not an accurate portrayal of the typical American. Poverty and inequality were huge blemishes in the face of everyday society, the rich became richer, the poor, poorer.
Amongst the working and lower classes the standard of living, in all areas, declined. Healthcare, education, wages and consumption rates all fell and employment rates crashed; the most devastating factor, however, was the lack of protection for the most vulnerable in society. Children, immigrants, the disabled and the elderly members of the working class had no social standing and therefore became the victims of the 'Roaring Twenties' society.
New Money
Before this decade, most of the countries wealthiest families were so established by many generations of wealth and aristocracy. The newly rich members of society are often portrayed, including by F. Scott. Fitzgerald, as vulgar and ostentatious, qualities complemented by their common disregard for the prohibition.

The prohibition was another factor that contributed to the widen gap between the working and upper classes in general. Members of the upper classes easily got around the alcohol reform. With money and influence, they were able to grease the palms of any one, enabling them to host the scandalous parties and own the fancy cars so often associated with the wealthy citizens of 1920s America. This influence also established the, now typical, image of the upper class member as outrageous and flamboyant, at least among the younger generations with new money.
Old Money
People with 'Old Money' stereotypically epitomize elegance, taste and grace. It is generally considered that they looked down upon people with 'New Money' , and their controversial scandalous behavior.

Old money was generally a term for the members of the Upper Class who inherited their money through a long line of wealthy ancestors, although it may be in the form of property, trusts and other investments. Because of this, many times, those who had 'old money' although hugely rich through assets, many times actually had very little freedom to spend money recklessly.

"Property in this country is drifting into the pockets of those who can keep it and out of the hands of those who can merely acquire it,"- Herbert Pell
Case Study
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