Girl  Evangelists

The 1920s was the golden age of girl evangelists. It was also a decade of considerable idealogical conflict as the “modern” world challenged old ways of thinking and behaving. Some have described the decade as “a revolution of manners and morals.” A clash of cultures was definitely at centre stage.

The Great War had ended and new attitudes shaped by the war made their way onto a much more public stage. New attitudes regarding sexuality exploded onto the scene, and the young flappers flaunted the new freedoms. They smoked, they drank, they danced—and they dressed (but in the opinion of most, they were hardly dressed at all, with their short dresses and exposed knees).

A strange discontinuity marked the period. In 1920, Prohibition was declared law, and remained in effect for the entire period of the “roaring twenties.” But drink was available. Organized crime and police and elected officials on the take made sure of that. Little girl evangelists knew this, and they often spoke against alcohol.

Technology was rapidly changing. Automobiles were becoming more common, and conveniences for the home, such as refrigerators, more available to the average person. Vaudeville still had a few acts, but entertainment was shifting to “moving pictures.” Large segments of the population had more money and more freedom, particularly on the urban scene.

Nothing represents the clash of cultures in this period any better than the contrast between the flappers and the little girl evangelists. One stood for rapid and risque change. The other defended traditional values.    

for further reading:

Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s (New York: Harper & Row, 1931). Reprint: Perennial Classics, 2000.

David E. Kyvig, Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940: How Americans Lived Through the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression, rev. ed. (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004).

Nathan Miller, New World Coming: The 1920s And The Making Of Modern America (New York: Scribner, 2003). Reprint: Da Capo Press, 2004.

Lucy Moore, Anything Goes: A Biography of the Roaring Twenties (New York: Overlook Press, 2010).

“The Roaring Twenties”