The year 1919 was a pivotal one.
The “War to end all wars” was over. Yet another World War was brewing, and we were in the center of a “Red Scare,” as the Communist Party of America had been founded that year and our labor unions were deemed to have been infiltrated by Marxist leaders.
The Mexican revolution and the Russian Civil War were raging, and alcohol prohibition — otherwise known as The Volstead Act — was on the dockets of the U.S. Senate.
Former President Teddy Roosevelt died in that year, and President Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke in the White House. A devastating hurricane hit Florida and Texas, killing more than 600.
Bad news seems to have dominated 1919.
But, on the positive side, the terrible Spanish Flu epidemic ended in 1919. The Paris Peace Conference of Versailles was held. The League of Nations was founded. And President Wilson received the Nobel Peace Prize for leading some of the world into those pacts.
The Grand Canyon was made a National Park that year and on June 4, the U.S. Congress passed the 19th amendment to the Constitution, finally allowing women to vote, ending decades of frustration and agitation. This was to change everything, and was to become a stepping stone for a glittering new age to eventually be called, “The Roaring Twenties.”
America and the world were on the threshold of a great revolution in living styles. A new morality was coming in, and it was led by the invention of the automobile, the airplane, the radio, the telephone and moving pictures. Inventions and devices such as the washing machine, refrigerator and vacuum cleaner allowed women to get out of the house and experience new things.
And women did that in millions, as fashions, lifestyles and music changed from conservative to hot and sassy. The “New American Woman” was born.
Not everyone was thrilled about that.
The evolution had been partly because of the stress and horror of WWI. People wanted to enjoy themselves again, along with the emerging prosperity. Fired by consumerism and the cult of “Live now, Pay later,” there was a rapid growth in our Gross National Product in 1919. Men were wearing pinstripe suits with vests and spats over their shoes, and women’s fashion included fringed and beaded dresses with hem lines above the knees, plus cloche hats over bobbed hair, powdered faces and lipstick. The ladies also sported cigarette holders and stockings held-up by garters — and they drank and smoked in public.
Petaluma’s Hill Opera House was featuring the live musical, “Oh Baby,” opening that New Year’s Eve. It was billed as, “A smart emulsion of glorious girlhood and sanitary fun,” and also, “An assemblage of delectable femininity.”
And, to add even more controversy to women’s new freedoms, something called “birth control devices” came to the fore in 1919. Along with the right to vote, women were beginning to think about putting off family thoughts and considering such things as college and careers, and even … wait for it… learning to drive!
All of this resulted in the beginning of a generation gap between the “New Woman” and the traditionalist. Fading fast were the days of long skirts, corsets and “Be home by 9, or else!”