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1920s America: A Decade of Great Change

Posted 01/15/21 by April S

In the Fact and Fiction department at the Main Library we field a variety of questions. Every day brings new inquiries from people doing research and/or folks simply trying to gain a better understanding of a topic that interests them. We also love to provide readers’ advisory, so if you’re looking for book recommendations, keep the Library in mind.

”What was it like in…,” fill in a decade or time period, is a question we often field. Let’s use the 1920s as an example.

The year was 1920. The 1918 influenza pandemic and World War I had resulted in hundreds of thousands of lives lost. The impacts were still being felt at the start of 1920 from both the war and the pandemic.

At the start of 1920, Woodrow Wilson was president. Due to a recent stroke, in the fall of 1919, many speculated about the true state of his health. The economy in 1920 wasn’t exactly booming and many politicians didn’t agree with Wilson’s policies and actions in recent years. Change was definitely on the horizon.

Coined the Roaring Twenties, the nineteen twenties were “regarded as a boisterous era of prosperity, fast cars, jazz, speakeasies, and wild youth.” However, things were not the same for everyone. In 1920s America, some had wealth and privilege, but not all. Widespread income inequities were felt by a substantial portion of the population throughout the decade. “For many Americans, the 1920s was a decade of poverty. More than 60 per cent of Americans lived just below the poverty line.” - Bitesize guides, BBC

The 1920s are often referred to as the decade of great change. Women gained the right to vote, movies evolved from silent to talkies, there was an explosion of activity in arts and literature, assembly lines were in full swing, and the list goes on and on. One hundred years later, the decade remains a pivotal time in American history.

When researching 1920s America, people typically want general information or have a specific focus in mind. Frequently studied topics from the nineteen twenties include various industries, the economy, automobiles, aviation, the 18th Amendment (or National Prohibition Act), the 19th Amendment (or women’s right to vote), labor strikes (1919-1921), the Harlem Renaissance, fashion, flappers, jazz, literature, radio, sports, organized crime, movies, and the stock market crash of 1929.

If you would like assistance finding information on the topics featured in this blog post or another topic of interest, please contact the Fact & Fiction Department at the Main Library by calling 419.259.5311 or send an email to fact.fiction@toledolibrary.org - we’re always glad to help!

Finding Library Materials on the 1920s

To find library materials specifically related to life in 1920s America, we suggest using the Advanced search in the Library catalog. Bear in mind, the results may include materials that span multiple decades, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find helpful information. Look closely at the catalog description to judge whether a particular title will suit your needs.

Daily Life / History

Recommended Terms

  • Nineteen twenties
  • Roaring twenties
  • United States history – 1919-1933
  • United States - social conditions - 1918-1932
  • United States – social life and customs – 1918-1945
  • United States - civilization - 1918-1945
  • Transatlantic flights - history - 20th century
  • Aeronautics - United States - history - 20th century

Recommended Books

Cover of Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940: How Americans Lived Through the "Roaring Twenties" and the Great Depression

Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940: How Americans Lived Through the "Roaring Twenties" and the Great Depression

Cover of Life During the Roaring Twenties

Life During the Roaring Twenties

Cover of Flappers, and the New American Woman: Perceptions of Women from 1918 Through the 1920s

Flappers, and the New American Woman: Perceptions of Women from 1918 Through the 1920s

Cover of 1920: The Year That Made the Decade Roar

1920: The Year That Made the Decade Roar

Audiobook   |   Hoopla eBook   |   Hoopla eAudiobook
Cover of Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America

Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America

OverDrive eAudiobook   |   Hoopla eAudiobook
Cover of Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance

Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance

Cover of Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History

Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History

Large Print   |   Audiobook   |   OverDrive eBook   |   OverDrive eAudiobook
Cover of The Flight: Charles Lindbergh's Daring and Immortal 1927 Transatlantic Crossing

The Flight: Charles Lindbergh's Daring and Immortal 1927 Transatlantic Crossing

Hoopla eBook   |   Hoopla eAudiobook
Cover of Bessie Coleman: First African American and Native American Pilot

Bessie Coleman: First African American and Native American Pilot

Crime / Organized Crime

The 1920s are sometimes referred to as the prohibition era. Crime syndicates flourished during this time, because of the high demand for alcohol during a time when it was illegal to consume or sell it. Check out the resources below to learn more about organized crime, gangsters and more.

Recommended Terms

  • Crime – United States - history – 20th century
  • Organized crime - history - 20th century
  • Biography - criminals & outlaws
  • Forensic sciences - history - 20th century
  • Prohibition - United States - history - 20th century

Recommended Books

Cover of The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America

The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America

OverDrive eBook   |   OverDrive eAudiobook
Cover of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

Audiobook   |   OverDrive eAudiobook   |   Hoopla eAudiobook
Cover of Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago

Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago

Hoopla eAudiobook
Cover of The Bourbon King: The Life and Crimes of George Remus, Prohibition's Evil Genius

The Bourbon King: The Life and Crimes of George Remus, Prohibition's Evil Genius

OverDrive eAudiobook   |   Hoopla eAudiobook
Cover of Detroit’s Infamous Purple Gang

Detroit’s Infamous Purple Gang

OverDrive eBook   |   Hoopla eBook
Cover of King Con: The Bizarre Adventures of the Jazz Age's Greatest Imposter

King Con: The Bizarre Adventures of the Jazz Age's Greatest Imposter

Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was a time period of cultural awakening for African Americans. During the 1910s through the mid-1930s, the Harlem neighborhood in New York City became known as a “black cultural mecca” sparking immense activity in literature, music and the performing arts. Check out the resources below to learn more about what some have termed a “golden age” in African American culture.

Recommended Terms

  • Harlem Renaissance
  • Harlem (New York, N.Y.) - Intellectual life
  • African American arts - New York (State) - 20th century
  • African Americans - New York (State) - Intellectual life - 20th century

Recommended Books

Cover of The Harlem Renaissance: A Very Short Introduction

The Harlem Renaissance: A Very Short Introduction

Cover of Black Women of the Harlem Renaissance Era

Black Women of the Harlem Renaissance Era

Cover of The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance

Cover of The Encyclopedia of the Harlem Literary Renaissance

The Encyclopedia of the Harlem Literary Renaissance

Cover of Harlem Renaissance

Harlem Renaissance

Cover of The Harlem Renaissance in American History

The Harlem Renaissance in American History

Popular Culture

The broad term popular culture encompasses areas like social life, art, fashion, literature, movies, music, sports, and so much more. Individuals interested in learning more about popular culture from the 1920s era will indeed find a plethora of interesting materials.

Recommended Terms

  • Popular culture - United States - history - 20th century
  • United States - Social life and customs - 1918-1945
  • Fashion – United States - history - 20th century
  • Clothing and dress - United States - history - 20th century
  • Sports

Recommended Books

Cover of Bright Young Things: Real Lives in the Roaring Twenties

Bright Young Things: Real Lives in the Roaring Twenties

Cover of Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation

Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation

Cover of Style & Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975

Style & Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975

Cover of One Summer: America, 1927

One Summer: America, 1927

Large Print   |   Audiobook   |   OverDrive eBook   |   OverDrive eAudiobook
Cover of Fashion in the Time of The Great Gatsby

Fashion in the Time of The Great Gatsby

Cover of American Epic: When Music Gave America Her Voice

American Epic: When Music Gave America Her Voice

Hoopla eAudiobook   |   DVD
Cover of Five O'clock Lightning: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the Greatest Team in Baseball, the 1927 New York Yankees

Five O'clock Lightning: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the Greatest Team in Baseball, the 1927 New York Yankees

Cover of Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball's Greatest Forgotten Player

Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball's Greatest Forgotten Player

Cover of Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s

Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s

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