The 1920s were the time of the Youth. In a very solid, practical way.
It was the first time in history where a social group emerged that was identified by age and presented homogeneous characteristics.
Youth became a social group distinct from all others, with their own value, their own rules and their own aspiration.
The birth of Youth
Up to before WWI, a person often passed from being a kid, to be an adult. That was a passage that could occur quite early in life, the lower the social class, the earlier it would happen, since children’s labour was vital in the economy of a family.
But already in the course of the 1800s, among the middle class in particular, things started to change. This was a very moveable class, whose members knew that by their activity, their entrepreneurship, their intuition and hard work, an upward movement was possible. The idea that education was the single most important weapon in this battle became widespread over the century.
At the beginning of the 1900s, college attendance started to rise. Colleges were still very exclusive and expensive, but the middle class was becoming steadily more affluent, and as this happened, families preferred to invest in the education of their children rather than introduce them straightaway to a job.
After WWI, the number of enrollments in colleges throughout the Western World rose considerably.
When young people left for the college, they entered a particular state where they were not children anymore because they were expected to work for their own advancement, but they were not adults yet because they were still not required to shoulder the responsibilities of adulthood.
They spent most of their time away from family, with an obvious lessening of the control that families had on their life. These students that lived on campus had the most freedom people their age had ever had before.
Youth’s culture strengthens
The Youth’s culture first emerged in the US and then spread all over the Western World and beyond, reaching even Japan, where a Western-inspired youth culture became very prominent in the 1920s.
There were two environments in particular where this culture found fertile soil to bloom:
The college was the place where the youth culture first emerged and where it found its true aspiration.
In colleges, students went about their life with very little monitoring from family and elders in general, and so they were free to create their won society.
The ‘collegiate style’ became a look that all young people tried to imitate, not only college students because that was how modern young people were supposed to look like. Collegiate attitudes also broke out of the colleges and became the attitude of young people in general. It involved a more modern idea of the relationship between men and women; the acceptance of new social situations, like women working outside the house and seeking their own careers; a rebellious attitude towards tradition and the traditional values of the elders; also a certain disillusionment about the future, which pushed young people to seek fun and gratification while they could.
Inside the colleges, fraternities and sororities became a steady point of guidance for young people. They were a bridge between family and adult life since they often act as a family to the members, who would find acceptance and guidance in the group. But it was a peer group, where everyone – at least in theory – had the same power and influence.
When Prohibition went into effect, it didn’t magically erase any opportunity to drink alcohol. Bars simply went underground, which made them appealing to a larger population than that who had been frequenting the saloons. These new bars, the speakeasies, were accessible to a lot of people that would have never gone to a saloon, in particular women.
In these places that were to some extent shady, a rebellious form of life flourished, and it was in this environment that a freer form of sexual expression manifested, especially on the part of women. Daring dancing, dating, petting, all of this was part of the regular life of the speakeasy, though young people follow this line of conduct even outside of it.
But it was in the speakeasy, with its bootleg alcohol, its devil jazz music, the promiscuity of the patronage, that the rebellious aspirations of youth found its more visible expression.In the 1920s for the first time youth became a social group distinct from all others, with their own value, their own rules and their own aspiration #history Click To Tweet
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Fass, Paula S., The Damned and the Beautiful. American Youth in the 1920s. Oxford University Press, New York, 1977