110 Primary Source Images: The New Era

The 1920s so reshaped American life that it came to be called by many names: the New Era, the Jazz Age, the Age of the Flapper, the Prosperity Decade, and, perhaps most commonly, the Roaring Twenties. The mass production and consumption of automobiles, household appliances, film, and radio fueled a new economy and new standards of living, new mass entertainment introduced talking films and jazz while sexual and social restraints loosened. But at the same time, many Americans turned their back on political and economic reform, denounced America’s shifting demographics, stifled immigration, retreated toward “old time religion,” and revived with millions of new members the Ku Klux Klan. On the other hand, many Americans fought harder than ever for equal rights and cultural observers noted the appearance of “the New Woman” and “the New Negro.” Old immigrant communities that had predated new immigration quotas, meanwhile, clung to their cultures and their native faiths. The 1920s were a decade of conflict and tension. Whatever the decade was, as the following sources reveal, it was not “normalcy.”


Old newspaper advertisement for Aspirin, diamond rings, clippers, face creams, typewriters, and training to be a dental nurse.
“Advertising Section” Photoplay (October 1924) Museum of Modern Art Library, via Archive.org.

In the 1920’s Americans across the country bought magazines like Photoplay in order to get more information about the stars of their new favorite entertainment media: the movies. Advertisers took advantage of this broad audience to promote a wide range of goods and services to both men and women who enjoyed the proliferation of consumer culture during this time. “Advertising Section” Photoplay (October 1924) Museum of Modern Art Library, via Archive.org.

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Klan Gathering (1920s)

KKK gathering of a burning cross, 30-50 people in white robes and pointed white masks, and others in suits down on the ground.
Underwood and Underwood, “Klan assembles Short Distance from U.S. Capitol,” (ca. 1920’s). Library of Congress.

This photo by popular news photographers Underwood and Underwood shows a gathering of a reported 300 Ku Klux Klansmen just outside Washington DC to initiate a new group of men into their order. The proximity of the photographer to his subjects for one of the Klan’s notorious night-time rituals suggests that this was yet another of the Klan’s numerous publicity stunts.


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