Girl  Evangelists

The 1920s was a decade of tremendous change, and nowhere was that more noticeable than in the deportment and the dress of the “flapper,” the young girl on the verge of adulthood who rejected the attitudes of the previous generation. Rude, risque, racy, and rebellious, they shaped a new vision of the young female. She could smoke, she could drink, she could flirt, she could wear short dresses, bob her hair, hold her dance partner in suggestive embrace, engage in petting parties, and go joy-riding away from her parents’ watchful eyes as automobiles became more popular.

The flapper shocked the sensibilities of a wide range of opinions, from parents and ministers to educators and congressmen. But flappers also had their defenders, often among clergy and educators. The cold brutality and destructiveness of the First World War had shaken society, and some describe the generation after the war as a revolution of manners and morals. The flappers were the most visible token of that change, and a flapper song caught the flavour of that change:
    I can show my shoulders,   
    I can shown my knees;
    I’m a free-born American
    I can show what I please.

Not all girls were full flown flappers. There were, of course, the super-flappers who challenged every boundary and convention. Then there were more ordinary flappers, and some only semi-flappers, or not flappers at all.

Girl evangelists generally criticized the flapper. But the flapper influence affected styles and attitudes widely. Even while criticizing the flappers, girl evangelists sometimes bobbed their hair (the “badge” of flapperhood) or used a little makeup. But few went beyond that, for girl evangelists gained their prominence by being the counter-type of the flapper. They represented the traditional girl with 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.

Paula S. Fass, The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979).

Joshua Zeitz, Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006).