Social Tensions

Social Tensions

In addition to a big divide between rich and poor, the 1920s also saw the birth of new social conflicts.


GCSE History Revision - ProhibitionIn October 1919, the Senate passed a law known as the Volstead Act, which made buying or selling alcohol illegal. People now look back on this piece of legislation as being totally bonkers, but at the time it had a lot of support:

* Many people associated drinking culture with the Germans; alcohol was therefore just another evil foreign influence in America that needed to be stopped

* Anti-Saloon League: There was a very well-organized and very influential temperance (ie. no drinking) movement, known as the Anti-Saloon League. Its supporters and organizers were strict protestants who regarded alcohol as a corrupting, evil force that was, amongst other things, responsible for damaging the morals of poor people (rather than the awful living conditions that they suffered).

The United States went dry on 16th January 1920. Far from creating a country of sensible, healthy people, madness ensued. People wanted booze, and when something is illegal there’s only one group of people you can get it from: criminals.

* Organized crime boomed because of Prohibition, making a fortune from illegally selling alcohol. They quickly expanded into other criminal activities, such as protection rackets (forcing businesses to pay them money to keep them ‘safe’ – unsafe in this situation being what happened if you refused to pay) and gambling. And, of course, the crime gangs fought each other to control things like the speakeasies (illegal bars) where alcohol was served, increasing the levels of violence in towns and cities.

* The gangsters and their organized crime rackets were able to exist because of corruption. They were able to operate almost openly – Al Capone and others were pretty much celebrities – because they bribed policemen and politicians.

Social Tensions Young people: were the people who enjoyed the new entertainment industry and the exciting world of illegal alcohol and speakeasies the most. However, groups of young women who enjoyed the fashions, dancing and romance of the time, known as flappers, were often criticized for their apparent loose morals. For many of the older generation, these women and the liberated lives that they led were regarded as being part of society’s moral decline