Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art


Rise of Women

Prohibited But Popular

As support for temperance swelled, conversely, so did women's public consumption of alcohol. As more women entered the traditionally male workplace-a result of the war-they also began to spend their leisure time drinking outside the home. As all-male saloons declined, dance halls and cabarets took their place. For young, unmarried women, consuming alcohol illicitly in speakeasies was fun and fashionable. For middle- and upper-class married women, alcohol became a part of home life, as their husbands now lacked public spaces for drinking.

Because alcohol was scarce, costly, and had a twinkle of glamour, it became a marker of hospitality and modernity and a staple of entertaining at home. Accordingly, the 1920s saw the rise of the cocktail party, at which women used added ingredients to make liquor go farther and to hide the rough taste of alcohol illegally distilled under Prohibition.

Prohibition occupied the American consciousness throughout the 1920s, as the contents of one's glass at any social event became a political statement. By the end of the decade, women were once again using their moral authority politically, but now to repeal Prohibition. Prohibition did not stop drinking, was impossible to enforce, and invited disregard of the law, they argued. Furthermore, it actually encouraged alcohol abuse among the young. Most vocal was the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR), formed in 1929. The WONPR supported Franklin Roosevelt for president in 1932 based on his promise to repeal Prohibition. The group disbanded in 1933 after the passage of the Twenty-First Amendment successfully did so.

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Program cover from production of
Program cover from production of "Wonder Bar"
Gordon Conway

Gordon Conway designed this theater program for the 1930 production of "Wonder Bar."

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