20 Things You Had No Idea Happened in 1920
Flappers, jazz, and homemade hooch are just the beginning. Here’s what happened in arguably one of the 20th century’s most eventful years.
Welcome to 1920!
Imagine for a moment that it’s 1920. If you’re over 14, there’s a 66 percent chance you’re already married—and probably for life, since the divorce rate is 6 percent. If you’re over 54, you’ve already exceeded the U.S. life expectancy. While more Americans are moving to cities, the majority still live in the country. Movies are silent. Televisions are non-existent. The U.S. president is Woodrow Wilson, but if you’re a woman, you weren’t able to vote at the time of his election. That being said, while you may not realize it, there’s actually a woman running the country. Here’s what else was going on in America 100 years ago. And if you’re a history buff, you’ll also want to check out these 15 fascinating facts about the United States you never learned in school.
A woman was running the United States
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke—but the government felt it was in the country’s best interest to keep things quiet. The public didn’t learn about the stroke for months, during which time his wife, Edith Wilson, was making most executive decisions. Historians now say that Mrs. Wilson was effectively the U.S. President during the remainder of Wilson’s term, which means that a woman was running the country throughout 1920.
A mom convinced her son to let women vote
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted some women the right to vote, had been kicked around in Congress for years. But it was finally ratified on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee signed on, becoming the 36th state to do so (as was required to ratify a Constitutional amendment). What you probably don’t know is that Tennessee’s deciding vote was cast by 24-year-old Harry T. Burn, who was following his mom’s advice “to be a good boy” and whose vote was the 50th out of a possible 99. Now that’s what we call a close call! You might also be surprised to learn that these 15 countries gave women the right to vote before the United States did.
The country elected the wrong president for the right reasons
The first presidential election in which women had the right to vote was that of 1920, in the race between Republican Warren G. Harding and Democrat James M. Cox. Harding was elected by a landslide, and some say that was due in large part to his staunch pro-woman stance. Sadly, Harding’s presidency has been roundly criticized, and he died suddenly on August 23, 1923, before he had a chance to complete his first term. Ironically, there are some who believe Harding was murdered…by his wife.
It became illegal to sell booze…but not to drink it
courtesy Everett Collection/Shutterstock
The 18th amendment to the Constitution, which banned the sale of “intoxicating liquors,” went into effect on January 16, 1920. While Prohibition, as it was known, closed down every tavern, bar, and saloon in the United States and took liquor off the shelves of every store, it didn’t stop Americans from drinking. That’s because the Amendment didn’t make it illegal to drink alcohol. As a result, the liquor trade was driven underground, where it was controlled by criminals like Al Capone until 1933, when the amendment was repealed. Believe it or not, these 50 things are still banned in the U.S.
America said no to the Treaty of Versailles
It is widely known that World War I unofficially ended in 1918 with Germany’s surrender. It is also widely known that the war formally ended in 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which some believe laid the groundwork for World War II with its harsh reparations against Germany. What you might not know is that the United States refused to sign it. Whether that absolves the U.S. of or implicates the U.S. in the complicated chain of events that led from the Treaty to World War II remains the subject of debate. Did you know that these cool everyday things were actually designed for World War I?
The League of Nations was founded…without the United States
The precursor to the United Nations, the League of Nations was founded in January 1920 in order to mediate international disputes before they rose to the level of another world war. While President Wilson had been instrumental in creating the League, the United States never actually joined it. In fact, nine days after its establishment, the U.S. Senate officially voted against joining.
The ACLU was founded
On January 2, 1920, federal agents broke into the homes of suspected anarchists without search warrants and rounded up thousands of citizens suspected of being “dangerous” to “American security.” Most were deprived of due process. Many were deported. Although it wasn’t the first such raid (known as “Palmer Raids,” after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, who was instrumental in making them happen), it was the one that led to the founding of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Here are some historical facts you’ll wish weren’t true.
A deadly terrorist incident took place on U.S. soil
On September 16, 1920, a bomb exploded in front of the Wall Street offices of J.P. Morgan & Co., killing 38 and injuring hundreds. Those responsible for the bombing were never identified with any certainty, nor was a motive. Some believed the bombing was an attempt to assassinate J.P. Morgan, himself. Some believed it was an attempt to punish the company for having profited from World War I. Most of the finger-pointing, however, was focused on the same sort of people targeted by the Palmer Raids.
The “Sacco and Vanzetti” murders
On April 15, 1920, a paymaster for a shoe company in South Braintree, Massachusetts, was shot and killed along with his guard, and whoever did it absconded with $15,000 (which would be worth considerably more today). Two Italian immigrants, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were convicted and sentenced to death based on circumstantial evidence. It’s not clear to this day whether they actually committed the crime, although in 1977, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation vindicating them. Check out these famous moments in history that never actually happened.