1910s: The Way We Lived
1910s: The Way We Lived
Like the decade before it, the 1910s were characterized by a slow but steady modernizing trend. American society became more urban. People left rural areas for suburbs. Cities expanded thanks to the ease of travel provided by automobiles, buses, and streetcars. As American factories grew larger and more capable of producing a variety of goods, more and more Americans ceased to make clothes, food, and other household goods at home. Instead, they bought those goods from retail stores and from the growing variety of catalog retailers, such as Sears, Roebuck; L. L. Bean; and others.
Several dramatic social movements also helped reshape America in the decade. Racism grew even more intense in the South, as seen in the growing number of Jim Crow laws (which forced blacks into separate and inferior public facilities) and the increase in lynchings (illegal mob killings). By mid-decade blacks began leaving the South in huge numbers, heading north to fill the expanding factories of manufacturers in cities such as Detroit, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; and New York City. This movement of African Americans, quickened by the involvement of the United States in World War I (1914–18) in 1917, is known as the Great Migration (1900–60).
Two other social movements led to constitutional amendments. As more and more women left their roles as homemakers and moved into the workplace, they clamored for the full rights enjoyed by men—including the right to vote. Thanks to leadership from organizers like Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947) and Alice Paul (1885–1977), a women's suffrage amendment passed Congress in 1919 and became law in 1920 as the Nineteenth Amendment. Temperance crusaders led a campaign to ban the sale and distribution of alcohol. Their campaign culminated in the Eighteenth Amendment, ratified in 1919 (and repealed in 1933 after the disastrous social experiment known as Prohibition).
World War I brought major changes to the way Americans lived in the decade as well. American leaders kept the United States out of the war for the first three years, but when America joined the Allies in 1917, Americans threw their support behind the war effort. Two million American soldiers joined the war effort, including several thousand African American soldiers. Millions more Americans supported the war by purchasing war bonds. Though war brought unity to many Americans, it also created divisions. German immigrants were singled out for mistreatment, even though most committed themselves to their new country. Political radicals like Socialists and Communists faced hostility during the Red Scare of 1919.
Despite these major social changes, people still found time for new forms of amusement. There were popular crazes for new games like the card game bridge. Americans by the thousands went to see a new circus that billed itself as the "Greatest Show on Earth"—the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Boys and girls across the nation enjoyed joining the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, two popular organizations that tried to build character in their participants.