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Prepare: Take a few minutes to think about the material that weâ??ve covered in this course so far.
Reflect: Reflect on what you found interesting, surprising, or confusing in this past week. Did
anything that you learned cause you to understand an issue and event differently? Have you
discovered any habits or tips that help you to complete your course work more effectively or
Write: This discussion forum is an opportunity for you to explore topics that interest you, share
critical insights and questions that you are working with, share your struggles and triumphs, and
discuss difficulties that may have arisen this week, hopefully finding solutions. Your initial post
should describe your experiences in the course this past week, prompting further discussion. You
should address at least two of the following questions:
What struck you in particular as you explored the course materials this week?
What insights have you had?
What have you been struggling with?
What questions have come up for you at this point?
Do you have any helpful tips that youâ??ve picked up in this course or in a past course?
Do you have questions about the assignment that your classmates might be able to help
with? (If you have a question for the instructor, be sure to contact your instructor through
email or in the Ask Your Instructor Forum).
Utilize the reading material to support your claims.
Tradition and Modernity
in the 1920s
The Stapleton Collection/Art Resource, NY
Modern culture brought new fashions, dances,
and freedom to the American middle class.
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American Lives: Mary Pickford
1. Though the 1920s was a boom time economically, the American people were cautious
about making purchases on credit. T/F
2. Entertainment was a central part of the 1920s experience, and popular pastimes
included amusements at Coney Island and jazz music from New Orleans. T/F
3. Most Americans were comfortable with the new morality, sexual promiscuity, and
intellectual movements of the 1920s. T/F
4. Harlem artists known as the New Negroes demanded respect from those who continued
to harbor racist ideas; their efforts became known as the Harlem Renaissance. T/F
5. The Great Depression originated within the United States, and the rest of the world was
largely unaffected. T/F
Answers can be found at the end of the chapter.
Learning Objectives
By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:
Understand the conservative economic shift the policies of Warren G. Harding brought
to the United States.
Explore the ways in which the consumer economy changed the lives of Americans.
Discuss the importance and relevance of leisure pursuits.
Explain the significance and impact of the Harlem Renaissance.
Discuss how fundamentalism and conservatism impacted different elements of society.
Discuss the weaknesses in the U.S. economy during the 1920s.
American Lives: Mary Pickford
An early film actress known affectionately as â??Americaâ??s Sweetheart,â? Mary Pickford became
famous in the early era before movies included sound, when actors had to dramatically express
meaning without the benefit of dialog. But Pickford was more than a silent-film movie star. Her
work bridged the silent and talking film eras in the late 1920s, and her sense of artistry and
financial acumen marked her career as a New Woman.
Like other career-oriented women of the 1920s, she pushed the boundaries of male-dominated
society, exercising social and economic control of her life. A levelheaded businesswoman, Pickfordâ??s approach to the motion picture industry established the star system that persists well into
the 21st century. She leveraged her stardom to negotiate unprecedented budgetary and creative
control over her work, and she regularly received 50% of a filmâ??s profits, often guaranteed to be
more than $1 million.
Pickford was born Gladys Louise Smith in Toronto, Ontario, in 1892, and in their youth she and
her siblings performed on the Canadian stage. As a young woman she moved to New York to
further her stage career, and in 1908 she was cast in a 2-year run of the Broadway production
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American Lives: Mary Pickford
The Warrens of Virginia. When the play ended, the performer who was by then known as Mary
Pickford tried her hand at acting in a number of short films in the new and growing movie industry, starring in more than 50 short films in 1 year alone. By 1911 she was established as one of
the nationâ??s leading actresses, having appeared in 20 films, including many produced by D. W.
Griffith, the filmmaker responsible for the controversial blockbuster The Birth of a Nation. She
often played a youthful girl or adolescent, even well into her 20s.
Pickford became one of the first women to control the
creative side of her career and the production of the
films in which she appeared. In 1919 she joined with
other top creative talents, including Charlie Chaplin,
D. W. Griffith, and her soon-to-be husband Douglas
Fairbanks, to form the United Artists film studio, a
filmmaking and distribution corporation that gave
them creative and financial control of the projects on
which they worked.
Pickfordâ??s star quality made the venture a success.
Pollyanna, the first film Pickford starred in under
United Artists, put the studio on firm financial footing, though many of those that followed were less
successful. Bridging the transition in filmmaking, in
1929 Pickford starred in Coquette, her first talking
film, for which she won an Academy Award for Best
Actress (Garraty & Carnes, 1999).
Pickfordâ??s business sense and involvement behind
the scenes of movie production earned her great
wealth but less public acclaim and recognition than
Considered â??Americaâ??s Sweetheart,â?
actress Mary Pickford was also a sharp her acting did, and her glamorous appearances on
the big screen have overshadowed her importance
businesswoman. She was among the
to the overall success of the movie industry (Whitfounders of United Artists film studio
field, 2007). She ended her acting career in the early
and helped make the movie industry a
1930s, but she remained active in the business operaforce in the U.S. economy.
tions of United Artists. She spent her later years living
in seclusion and turned to writing, penning two books and an autobiography. She died in Hollywood in 1979.
Pickfordâ??s contributions to the early motion picture industry were influenced by the time in
which she lived. The 1920s culture of opportunities made it possible for women to make important strides in business, education, and other parts of society once restricted to men. Although
her achievements were not typical, Mary Pickford represented the possibilities opening to American women during the modern age.
For further thought:
1. How did Mary Pickfordâ??s life reflect the New Woman in the 1920s?
2. How did Pickfordâ??s career and the growth of the film industry represent a turn
toward modernity?
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A Return to Normalcy
Section 7.1
7.1 A Return to Normalcy
Some elements of prewar society persisted into the 1920s, including concerns over private
economic power and government responsibility for social problems. Racial and ethnic divisions and tensions that had grown in earlier decades endured and even intensified. Overall,
though, the decade following World War I represented a shift in temperament and culture
for the United States. The idealism and reform impulse of the Progressive era were replaced
by conservatism, materialism, and a rising consumer culture. Americans turned away from
imperialism and involvement in foreign affairs and back toward isolationism. Among the
most striking changes of the 1920s was the state of American politics (Cooper, 1990).
Harding and Coolidge
With his health failing at the end of his second term and struggles over the League of Nations
continuing, Woodrow Wilson had ceased to be a viable leader for the Democratic Party by
1920. In the election that year, the Democrats nominated Ohio governor James M. Cox for
president, with Franklin D. Roosevelt for vice president. The other commanding national
political presence, former president Theodore Roosevelt, had died in his sleep on January 5,
1919. On the 10th ballot held at the convention, the Republicans nominated conservative
Ohio senator Warren G. Harding. Hardingâ??s running mate, Calvin Coolidge, had most recently
served as the governor of Massachusetts.
Newly enfranchised female voters swelled the electorate, so that 8 million more people voted
in the 1920 election than had in 1916. They cast their ballots for Harding by a large margin
because he was seen as sympathetic to their concerns. During the campaign he sent a personal letter to Carrie Chapman Catt endorsing suffrage, and he sent a campaign staffer to
be on hand for the Tennessee legislature vote that ratified the 19th Amendment. The election was a landslide, with Harding earning 16 million votes to Coxâ??s 9 million. Campaigning
from federal prison, Socialist Eugene
V. Debs claimed just over 3% of the
vote, demonstrating that more than a
million American voters did not find
representation of their interests in the
dominant parties.
Hardingâ??s administration represented
a turn away from reform and toward
conservative policies. He argued that
the nation needed â??not heroism but
healing, not nostrums but normalcy,
not revolution but restoration,� by
which he meant an emphasis on economic growth that would result in
community and harmony. He offered
America a normalcy that represented
an end to reform and war and aimed to
substitute them with small-town simplicity full of nostalgia and tradition
(Payne, 2009).
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© Bettmann/Corbis
Running one of the first modern presidential
campaigns, in 1920 Warren G. Harding recorded
campaign speeches on a phonograph and distributed
the records among supporters.
1/9/15 9:33 AM
A Return to Normalcy
Section 7.1
In international affairs, Harding opposed Wilsonâ??s advocacy for membership in the League of
Nations, but also Theodore Rooseveltâ??s arguments about military leadership, pacts, and alliances, even within the Western Hemisphere. Harding largely avoided discussing the growing
global interconnections between nations and economies, although the president well knew
that it was impossible to insulate the United States from the world economy and global politics. Instead, he dealt with international issues quietly while he publicly advocated a return to
an unconcern over foreign affairs and gave Americans the impression that they could accept
or reject involvement in world concerns when and where they pleased.
On the domestic front, Harding supported the efforts of conservative Republicans to court big
business and subvert the gains made by labor during the war. Hardingâ??s probusiness orientation faced some challenges at the state level when Progressive Republican governors were
elected in Wisconsin and Montana. For the most part, however, conservative Republican leaders surged forward with their agenda (Cooper, 1990).
A series of scandals also characterized Hardingâ??s presidency. He appointed his close friends
and allies to important political positions, and several members of the so-called Ohio Gang
took advantage of their place in the Harding administration to advance their own agendas. It
is unclear if Harding was fully aware of the actions of his appointees, since many of the scandals came to light only after his death.
The Teapot Dome affair, involving the lease of navy petroleum reserves in Wyoming and
California to private companies without public bidding, was the subject of a congressional
investigation. The scandal resulted in the bribery conviction of Hardingâ??s secretary of the
interior, Albert B. Fall, who had negotiated the leases. Other Harding administration scandals involved corruption in the Justice Department, perpetrated by his attorney general and
former campaign manager Harry M. Daugherty, and in the Veteransâ?? Bureau, where director
Charles R. Forbes was accused of putting his own economic gains ahead of the needs of returning veterans.
A New Economic Vision
In 1921 the nationâ??s economy was in a severe slump. Demobilization resulted in high unemployment, and investments fell below the rate of inflation, leaving all Americans with less
buying power. The end of wartime production resulted in thousands of layoffs, and the nation
entered a period of economic adjustment that required intervention. Even Americans still
employed found that their incomes did not stretch far enough to cover household needs, and
the purchase of extra consumer goods was out of the question for most households.
To deal with the economic concerns, Harding called a Presidentâ??s Conference on Unemployment. Its participants recommended a controversial public works expansion and a bonus bill
to reward veterans for their service, but both failed in Congress. Instead, the administration
cut taxes and created a budget bureau to oversee and limit the spending of government funds.
Once the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates, investment recovered, and by 1923 many
industries actually faced a labor shortage (Perrett, 1982).
Hardingâ??s approach to the presidency was in many ways the opposite of his Progressive predecessor (McGerr, 2005). He supported more individual freedom and greater limitations
on government activism, and he was far more favorable to and tolerant of big business. He
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A Return to Normalcy
Section 7.1
demonstrated his convictions by appointing officials to the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Federal Reserve Board that he believed would change those agenciesâ?? policies to
make them much more supportive of business.
He also strove to enact legislation that gave corporations more power. He signed legislation to
restore a higher tariff that supported American production, and he encouraged federal agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and Interstate Commerce Commission to cooperate with businesses rather than merely regulate them. Harding also supported business by
taking a more hands-on approach to breaking labor strikes.
Challenges for Labor
Using both the â??carrotâ? and the â??stick,â? business in the 1920s sought to erode worker protections and union membership. The stick, or punitive tactics, some employers used included
forcing newly hired workers to sign so-called yellow dog contracts in which they agreed not
to join unions; if they did, they would be fired.
More employers engaged in an open shop movement, arguing that they wanted to give their
employees the ability to decide on their own whether to join a union. Mobilizing under what
they called the American Plan, these employers declared that the open shop was consistent with American values, freedom, and patriotism. By contrast, they charged unions with
limiting freedom by creating closed shop workplaces, where only union members could
be employed. They argued that unions restricted production, made unreasonable wage
demands, and kept capable workers from reaching their full earning potential. In reality,
employers promoted the American Plan to rid their industries of union organization and
were successful in holding back the number of workers who could enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining (Goldberg, 1999).
To further discourage unionization, industrialists devised as a carrot the system of welfare
capitalism. Designed to instill worker loyalty and encourage efficiency, welfare capitalism
was practiced by the largest employers, including Goodyear, International Harvester, and
General Electric. The programs included company unions that could bargain for limited workplace improvements but not for wage increases. Some created grievance committees to hear
worker complaints. Other features could include profit sharing, life insurance, and company
baseball teams.
Labor journalist Louis Francis Budenz, a reporter for Labor Age, railed against the practices
of company unions, considering them the gravest threat to workers. In one case, he reported
a construction job purporting to have a company union that ingenuously promised, but failed
to pay, trained carpenters $12 a day, nearly double the wage union carpenters earned. Budenz
asserted that company unions were disingenuous organizations that aimed to draw in unsuspecting workers (Grant, 2006). By the mid-1920s a mere 4 million worked for a firm that
practiced welfare capitalism, but the concept grew throughout the decade (Dumenil, 1995).
Both the American Plan and welfare capitalism accelerated during the postwar recession
and caused considerable strife between labor and employers. Although the decade saw many
strikes across multiple industries, the probusiness climate assured that organized labor made
few gains.
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A Return to Normalcy
Section 7.1
The Triumph of Big Business
The U.S. economy rebounded from the postwar recession by 1922, thanks largely to a consumer revolution and growth in industries that manufactured automobiles and other
durable goods like refrigerators and radios. Following Hardingâ??s sudden death in 1923,
Calvin Coolidge succeeded to the presidency. A Republican attorney from Vermont, Coolidge
began his political career in Massachusetts, first in the state legislature and then as the commonwealthâ??s governor. He gained a national reputation as an opponent of organized labor
after he fired the striking Boston police force in 1919.
Coolidge was elected in his own right in 1924 and extended a series of policies favorable to
business expansion. He appointed probusiness men to the Federal Trade Commission and the
Interstate Commerce Commission and supported a move to raise tariffs to offer more protection for business. Under his watch, Congress also passed three revenue acts, greatly reducing
income taxes for most Americans.
In contrast to the Progressive eraâ??s push to regulate large corporations and make them more
responsive to environmental and societal problems, the 1920s political climate supported
business mergers and did little to restrict or influence business practices. The U.S. Supreme
Court and Justice Department protected businesses from organized labor through a series of
injunctions and limitations on union organization and strike activity.
The economy grew considerably for the remainder of the decade. Industrial output rose
64%, and the production of automobiles grew from 1.5 million in 1919 to 4.8 million in 1929.
Industries incorporated new technologies, including mechanization, assembly lines, and electricity to boost production. Worker productivity grew 43%, and overall output grew 70%
(Murphy, 2012).
Henry Fordâ??s motor company stands as a clear example of the business ethos of the 1920s.
Initially operating one plant outside Detroit, Michigan, Ford introduced the moving assembly
line and applied Frederick Winslow Taylorâ??s scientific management to the manufacture of his
Model T automobiles. The process reduced the time and cost to produce a car but also created
a monotonous and challenging work environment that initially led to massive turnover.
Ford countered by paying workers $5 per day (roughly $15 an hour in todayâ??s money) and
reducing the workday to 8 hours. Soon workers were lined up for jobs at the Ford plants.
The Ford Motor Company was also one of the first to apply the principles of welfare capitalism, offering workers profit sharing to discourage unionization. Ford also implemented
a so-called sociology department to ensure worker loyalty, patriotism, and moral values
(Drowne & Huber, 2004).
Fordâ??s sociology department, also known as the education department, aimed to guide his

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