Note: I take the phrase “demotic culture” from Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence (2000). By it he means a culture of, for, and by the masses. I do not, however, seek to assess his claim that the rise of the demotic is a sign of cultural decadence. I seek rather to explore some of its roots in the immigrant working class of the early twentieth century. "Sadie" is Sadie Frowne, a sixteen-year-old shirtwaist worker whose autobiography appeared in The Independent in 1902 as part of a series of "Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans." Hers is one of the few voices of the “working girls” of the era we can hear without the filter of a middle-class progressive reformer. I juxtapose Sadie’s view of her life and opportunities with that of several progressive reformers, most notably Jane Addams, and with that of the most important evangelical voice of the era, Billy Sunday. Historians have always heeded Addams’ views but not Sunday’s. For her part, Sadie Frowne did not listen to either. Instead she did a lot of thinking for herself and she talked things over with her peers. And she spoke most loudly not in the pages of The Independent but through her actions. She and her peers pioneered a new cultural ethos, one which prized pleasure, and a set of new mores – dating, treating, going steady – which would come to characterize the “modern young woman” of the 1920s and thereafter.

Some historians, most notably Kathy Peiss, have looked at this cultural world of the immigrant "working girl." But scholars interested in the "modern young woman" of the 1920s have paid her little heed. Instead they have looked to the cultural radicals of the 1910s such as Crystal Eastman, Louise Bryant, and Mabel Dodge. [Much of this literature stems from Christopher Lasch's The New Radicalism: The Intellectual as a Social Type which first brought cultural radicals into the forefront of historical analysis.] There are several reasons for this ongoing interest. One is that Eastman and company left behind a substantial paper trail of essays, memoirs, and letters. Another is that they pioneered the sorts of careers women scholars themselves pursue and, in the process, faced similar problems. So they are sympathetic figures. And their behavior did indeed anticipate much that would characterize the "modern young woman." They smoked, drank, explored their sexuality, disparaged Victorianism. In thus focusing upon the cultural radicals, historians have shred significant light on the rise of the "modern young woman."

Much, however, still remains obscure. How did the behavior of the Eastmans, Bryants, and Dodges become diffused throughout the larger society? Clustered in Greenwich Village with, in Mabel Dodge's case, trips to New Mexico, they formed a narrow circle indeed. Eastman's brother Max edited The Masses but the magazine's name reflected its left-wing politics, not its readership. It is not that the radicals were unknown. Lots of people had heard of Greenwich Village and knew, in a vague sort of way, that people there flouted conventional rules of behavior. Walter Lippman, a member of Mabel Dodge's set, popularized some of their ideas in The New Republic. [A good recent discussion, albeit one that does not take up the question of the "modern young woman" is William B. Scott and Peter M. Rutkoff, New York Modern: The Arts and the City (1999). Ann Douglas, Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s (1995) does take up the question but does not explore the ways in which cultural radicals might have influenced women, and men, generally.]

"What Sadie Knew" seeks to explore some of the ways in which immigrant working women and men participated in the demotic culture emerging from the 1890s on. The focus here is immediately and directly upon the question of cultural diffusion.— John McClymer, Department of History, Assumption College, July 8, 2003


At left is "Episode Number Four" from a 1929 ad campaign for Modess sanitary napkins. The J. Walter Thompson agency gave the campaign a name, "Modernizing Mother." [Click on the image for the complete advertisement. Click on the link above to see more of the ads.] The campaign heralded the triumph of the "modern young woman" in a series of cultural battles that roiled the 1920s.

Episode One set the overall theme. "Millions of daughters," the copy began, "are teasing mothers back to youth—slamming doors on the quaint ways of the nineties. One by one the foolish old drudgeries and discomforts pass." Life, under the leadership of these daughters, was becoming "easier, more pleasant—sensibly modern." In episode two, the "modern daughter" coaxed her mother up onto the ski slopes. The daughter, confident, fearless, happy, "sane of outlook, wholesome" leads the way. Not just mother, but "the world" is having a "hard time" keeping up. "She will not tolerate the traditions and drudgeries that kept her mother in bondage." Each episode followed the same format. The "modern" daughter liberated her mother from the "drudgeries" of the past by teaching her the latest dance steps, replacing her cotton nightie with silk pajamas, or taking her for a jaunt in a plane. Mother looks a bit frightened in several but gamely goes along. She is, she recognizes, a product of those "old-fashioned ways" which "cannot withstand the merry onslaught of the modern girl," as episode nine put it. The daughter's victory, according to the same ad, is complete:

Her enthusiasm is so sane and contagious, she is so everlastingly right in refusing the drudgeries and repressions of her mother's girlhood that the whole world is approving her gay philosophy which demands the best and nothing but the best.

Or, as episode eight contends:

Life is so much more fun when one is not afraid. It is her happy courage—the zest with which she welcomes every new delightful freedom which is the charm of the modern girl. What mother can bear to stay in the drab shadows of middle life when such a daughter is beckoning her back to youth.

Youth—which will not tolerate senseless drudgery, the slavery of old-fashioned ways.

One need only set this ad campaign against the worried reactions to the "flapper" earlier in the decade to see the depth and breadth of the change. Anne Shaw Faulkner, head of the Music Department of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, expressed some of the initial concern and outrage at the way the younger generation was behaving in an article in The Ladies' Home Journal of August 1921 called "Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?" Her answer was an emphatic "yes:"

Jazz originally was the accompaniment of the voodoo dancer, stimulating the half-crazed barbarian to the vilest deeds. The weird chant, accompanied by the syncopated rhythm of the voodoo invokers, has also been employed by other barbaric people to stimulate brutality and sensuality. That it has a demoralizing effect upon the human brain has been demonstrated by many scientists.

There is always a revolutionary period of the breaking down of old conventions and customs which follows after every great war; and this rebellion against existing conditions is to be noticed in all life to-day. Unrest, the desire to break the shackles of old ideas and forms are abroad. So it is no wonder that young people should have become so imbued with this spirit that they should express it in every phase of their daily lives. The question is whether this tendency should be demonstrated in jazz — that expression of protest against law and order, that bolshevik element of license striving for expression in music.

. . . Dancing to Mozart minuets, Strauss waltzes and Sousa two-steps certainly never led to the corset-check room, which now holds sway in hotels, clubs and dance halls. Never would one of the biggest fraternities of a great college then have thought it necessary to print on the cards of invitation to the "Junior Prom" that "a corset check room will be provided." Nor would the girl who wore corsets in those days have been dubbed "old ironsides" and left a disconsolate wallflower in a corner of the ballroom. Now boys and girls of good families brazenly frequent the lowest dives in order to learn new dance steps. Now many jazz dances have words accompanying them which would then never have been allowed to go through the mail. Such music has become an influence for evil.

Shaw Faulkner spoke for many who were shocked and alarmed by the "modern young woman," aka the flapper. It was not just jazz or the practice of taking off one's corset before venturing on to the dance floor that alarmed. It was the short skirts, the bobbed hair, the rolled stockings, the smoking. John Held, Jr., whose flappers became one of the visual icons of the twenties, captured many of these concerns in the cartoon reproduced at left. But by the end of the decade, the flapper had gone from iconoclast to trendsetter. Millions of women wore skirts whose hemlines ended at the knee, wore their hair cut short, and smoked. Petting had become acceptable behavior. Consider the hit song, "Gimme A Little Kiss, Will Ya, Hon" (available at the Red Hot Jazz Archive in a 1926 recording by Jean Goldkette and his Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Frankie Trumbauer, and Joe Venuti). Chaperones went the way of the corset. All of this was, by decade's end, "sensible" as well as "gay." And the heroine of the hour was the modern young woman.

Where had this embodiment of the modern come from? From where did she take her "gay philosophy"? The copy writer may have intended a reference to Nietzsche in the phrase, but, if so, it was for the intellectually venturesome as was the use of "repressions" to describe Victorian proprieties. If the reader got the reference to Freud, so much the better. But the changes were not primarily intellectual and owed little or nothing to the new interest in Nietzsche or the popularization of psychoanalysis. The changes were behavioral and reflected a new ethos and a new set of expectations. Where had these come from?

One of the most important sources was the "working girl" of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She was often an immigrant, usually working for very small wages, but exercising an unprecedented measure of independence. She seems an unlikely cultural pioneer because the usual portrayals of the flapper, whether in Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise or in movies like "Our Dancing Daughters" or in advertisements, invariably show her to be from so-called Old Stock families. Much of the discussion of the flapper focused upon college students, virtually all of whom came from northern European backgrounds. And, in fact, the process whereby race, ethnicity, class, and religious traditions all become invisible in the portrayal of first the flapper and then the modern young woman provides a helpful window on the workings of popular culture in the first half of the twentieth century. [The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920's (1977) by Paula S. Fass is an excellent study of college youth.]

The first task is to detail the ways in which the immigrant working girl and her boy friend actually did pioneer a new demotic culture. At right is John Sloan's "The Return from Toil." Sloan later turned the drawing into an etching. He described the scene as showing "a bevy of boisterous girls with plenty of energy left after a hard day's work." [John Sloan, New York Etchings (1978)] One such was Sadie Frowne whose autobiography appeared as "The Story of a Sweatshop Girl" in The Independent for September 25, 1902. Almost seventeen, Sadie described her childhood in Poland, her father's death when she was ten, her mother's decision to emigrate when Sadie was thirteen. Both she and her mother worked and earned about fifteen dollars a week between them, enough to afford a decent tenement apartment. But then her mother contracted tuberculosis and died. "I had saved a little money," Sadie wrote, "but mother's sickness and funeral swept it all away and now I had to begin all over again." She and a friend roomed together, paid $1.50 a week rent and spent $3.92 per week on food.

It cost me $2 a week to live [actually, $2.71], and I had a dollar a week to spend on clothing and pleasure, and saved the other dollar.

. . . . Some of the women blame me very much because I spend so much money on clothes. They say that instead of a dollar a week I ought not to spend more than twenty-five cents a week on clothes and that I should save the rest. But a girl must have clothes if she is to go into high society at Ulmer Park or Coney Island or the theater. Those who blame me are the old country people who have old-fashioned notions, but the pople who have been here a long time know better. A girl who does not dress well is stuck in a corner, even if she is pretty, and Aunt Fanny says that I do just right to put on plenty of style.

However exploited on the job, "working girls" frequently made their own choices about pleasure. Sadie worked long hours, went to night school several evenings a week, and did her own cooking, cleaning, and laundry.

. . . . at the end of the day one feels so weak that there is a great temptation to lie right down and sleep. But you must go out and get some air, and have some pleasure. So instead of lying down I go out, generally with Henry [her boyfriend]. Sometimes we go to Coney Island, where there are good dancing places, and sometimes we go to Ulmer Park to picnics. I am very fond of dancing, and, in fact, of all sorts of pleasure. I go to the theater quite often, and like those plays that make you cry a good deal. "The Two Orphans" is good. Last time I saw it I cried all night because of the hard times that the children had in the play. I am going to see it again when it comes here.

Sadie had a steady beau who took her to dances and other amusements. Many young women did not. Since they also did not have much money and since, like Sadie, they believed that "you must go out and get some air, and have some pleasure," they and their male counterparts and entrepreneurs — often themselves immigrants striving to get out of the working class and seeking working-class customers — collectively developed the system of "treating." In 1902 Sadie Frowne did not go to nickelodeons with Henry. Within a few years, however, going to the "pictures" would become a frequently indulged pleasure. At right is "The line at the ticket office" drawn by Wladyslaw T. Benda for Outlook, June 24, 1911. According to the accompanying article, there were some four hundred moving picture theaters in New York City. Young women would wait on line for a young man to offer to treat them to the show. Or, in the case of dance halls, as Kathy Peiss documented in Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (1986), owners would let women in for free or for a smaller charge than the men. At the dance hall, the treat often was a drink from the bar. If you came early, for a small charge, instructors would show you the latest steps.

Sadie and her sisters occasioned as much concern and consternation as the flapper would later, and for many of the same reasons. She had a measure of independence. The working girl often lived outside of a family setting. Even if she did live at home, she often was the primary breadwinner. In the wake of the Triangle Fire of 1912 the American Red Cross, which coordinated relief efforts for the families of the victims, found that of almost a third of the Italian and Jewish women who died were the main or sole support of their families. Another third lived alone or with roommates and subsisted entirely upon their own earnings. [See Elizabeth Dutcher, "Budgets of the Triangle Fire Victims," Life and Labor (September 1912), 266-67.] Their earnings, however meager, allowed them some modicum of discretionary spending. Sadie spent a $1 a week on clothes and pleasure and saved another $1. Some criticized her. She paid them no mind.

Complementing this autonomy was the emergence of new urban institutions that catered to the working woman and man. The working girl, that is, expressed her new autonomy in a specific cultural context. It was the combination that created such alarm but also attracted increasing numbers of middle and upper-class patrons to what were originally working class spaces. This was a new phenomenon. As Gunther Barth showed in City People: The Rise of Modern City Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (1980), a series of institutions and spaces emerged in the nineteenth century, including the department store, the apartment house, and the vaudeville theatre that defined urban life. While nominally open to all, most had clear class markers. Roy Rosenzweig provided a telling example in Eight Hours For What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City, 1870-1920 (1983) by recounting the struggles over public parks in Worcester, Massachusetts. Elm Park, on the city's West Side, featured a large pond and extended walkways. Here the affluent came to promenade and appreciate the beauties of nature. Across town, East Park in the middle of the city's blue-collar neighborhoods, had ball fields and, later, a pool. Working-class children and their parents came there to play, boisterously. A number of studies of saloons show this same class-specifc character. [The best of these is The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston, 1880-1920 (1983) by Perry Duis.] Working-class saloons were just that. Other establishments, in other parts of the city, served a more affluent clientele. The Anti-Saloon League had the working-class version in mind as a source of social disorder and political corruption.

Dance halls, nickelodeons, and amusement parks also began with clear class markers but quickly lost them. In the case of the nickelodeon, the initial clientele consisted largely of immigrants and their children, as pictured in the Outlook illustration reproduced above. Dance halls also sought the patronage of the working girl and her male counterpart. Indeed many dance halls were located above saloons. Amusement parks too, starting with Luna Park and its imitators in Brooklyn's Coney Island, lured the masses with promises of "spectacles," all for a small admission price. John F. Kasson titled his very informative study Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century (1978). Soon, however, the working girl and her boy friend shared these spaces with middle-class and upper-class pleasure-seekers.

These new urban settings became crucial areas of cultural diffusion, as Mrs. Shaw Faulkner bemoaned. "Now boys and girls of good families brazenly frequent the lowest dives in order to learn new dance steps." Good families had both a class and an ethnic/racial meaning. Children of affluence, children whose ancestors helped found the colonies, were frequenting these "dives." The "dives" were in working-class neighborhoods or, worse yet, in Harlem or other African-American communities. Who taught these children of privilege and reputability the newest steps? Dance halls provided instructors who, for a quarter, would give a private lesson. But most newcomers probably stood and watched and then went out on the floor and tried the steps themselves. Something quite similar took place at Luna Park and other amusement parks. Many of the rides had spaces where prospective patrons could watch others as they shrieked and clutched at their companions for balance. This too was instruction. Such informal but powerful learning went on at the movie houses as well.

What was learned went well beyond the newest dance steps. There was emerging in these new cultural spaces a new pattern of sexual behavior which reflected a new ethos. The dance hall, nickelodeon, and amusement park offered occasions for sexual play. And the immigrant working woman, and man, pioneered a new set of social norms in these new spaces. They created the new ways of behaving — dating, going steady, treating; they took their standards of proper behavior from their peer group; and they paid little attention to the traditional upholders of cultural standards. Such women and men chose their own romantic interests, their own friends, their own pleasure, as Sadie put it. In all of this they flouted convention. They also set an example.

Why did this example prove so potent? One key reason was that traditional upholders of moral standards were losing influence. Victorian notions of propriety had rested to a considerable degree upon evangelical Protestantism, and it was losing credibility from the 1870s on. "The Declension of American Revivalism" from the end of the Second Great Awakening to the revival campaigns of Dwight L. Moody and Billy Sunday explores this decline on this site. Sunday was every bit as popular in the 1910s as Charles Grandison Finney had been in the 1830s, and at least as many sinners found salvation through his sermons. But Finney was a major figure in the shaping of American Culture. The revival, during the Second Great Awakening, was a, perhaps the, way Americans sought to define the meaning of their lives. Finney's converts set forth to build a "Redeemed Nation," launched numerous reform movements and flocked into the new Republican party which expressed their eagerness to build a new social order. [For an extended discussion on this site, see "A Frame For Understanding the 1850s."] Sunday, in contrast, was a cheerful, self-identified reactionary. "To Hell with the twentieth century!" he proclaimed. For him the goal of the revival was individual salvation, pure and simple.

I'm against sin. I'll kick it as long as I've got a foot, and I'll fight it as long as I've got a fist. I'll butt it as long as I've got a head. I'll bite it as long as I've got a tooth. And when I'm old and fistless and footless and toothless, I'll gum it till I go home to Glory and it goes home to perdition!

Sunday, a former professional baseball player, would act out his sermons with emphatic gestures. When he said he would kick sin, he would kick. When he said he would fight it, he would ball his fist and throw a punch. "I believe that a long step toward public morality will have been taken when sins are called by their right names." Hence his much repeated "Booze" sermon. "Whiskey is all right in its place," went one famous line, "but its place is hell." Prohibition was the only reform he supported. For the rest he professed indifference. "You can't raise the standard of women's morals by raising their pay envelope. It lies deeper than that" was a typically dismissive remark. Not social reform but personal salvation was his message. Dancing was a graver threat than low wages to a woman's morals.

Sure it is harmful, especially for girls. Young men can drink and gamble and frequent houses of ill fame, but the only way a girl can get recreation is in a narrow gauge buggy ride on a moonlight night or at a dance.

If you can't see any harm in this kind of thing, why I guess the Lord will let you out as an idiot.

. . . . The dance is simply a hugging match set to music. The dance is a sexual love feast.

. . . . Where do you find the accomplished dancers? In the brothels. Why? They were taught in dancing schools. Listen to me, girls. I have never yet, and never will, flatly contradict the man or the woman who tells me that he or she dances and never knew of premature incitement of passion. I say that I will never contradict them, but I will say then: "Thank God; and get out of it right now, for next time you may."

Listen. I want you to hear what I've got to say. They tried the municipal dance hall out in Cleveland and it was so rotten that the sheriff finally insisted that it be closed. Don't talk that municipal dance hall to me. There were more girls ruined around that lot and turned into public prostitutes than you can count. The public dance hall, whether run by a municipality or private enterprise, is the favorite ground for the panderer, and from it three-fourths of all the girls who enter the life of shame are recruited. Oh, the dance is rotten all the way through. Seven million girls go wrong in a century in this country, and three-fourths of them are ruined by the dance. The chief of police of New York says three-fourths of the abandoned creatures there fell through the dance.

Sunday rarely interests present-day scholars, even those who study the rise of Fundamentalism. But his was the most important evangelical voice of the 1900s and 1910s. Millions attended his revivals. Newspapers devoted special "Sunday" supplements to them, filled with accounts of his previous successes. They provided detailed accounts of each sermon. Despite the vast numbers who found salvation in what Sunday called "Old Time Religion," his message increasingly fell upon deaf ears. No one was more eager to point this out than Sunday himself. A premillenialist, he saw the sinfulness around him as a sign of the approaching Second Coming when believers would meet Jesus in the "Rapture." He saw himself and his converts in the same light his predecessor Dwight L. Moody had. They were "of the world but not in it." Sunday believed that his task was to advance the Second Coming by converting individuals. Once enough accepted Jesus, He would return.

Sadie Frowne might well have heard of Billy Sunday but she certainly did not listen to him. Nor did he attempt to get his message across to her. Sunday's revivals were carefully planned. An advance team would arrive weeks before to organize publicity. All of the posters and handbills were in English. No effort was made to canvass immigrant neighborhoods. Sadie existed for Sunday only as a cliché. She was one of those likely to fall into a life of degradation through the dance. The fact that Evangelical Protestantism had little, if any, influence over immigrant working men and women is as important as it is obvious. Evangelicals would shape the emerging demotic culture only from the outside via efforts at prohibition of various sorts.

If Sunday did not even try to reach the immigrant working woman and man, other upholders of Victorian propriety did. Especially important in this regard are the "New Women" of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who went into settlement work and then into a host of new professions. Scholars may have ignored Billy Sunday, but not Jane Addams. We have heeded her every word. We have not, however, heard the common notes she and her counterparts and Billy Sunday and his sounded and have, as a result, lacked an important context for understanding Progressive Era efforts to "protect" the working girl.

Leslie's Weekly for July 27, 1911 carried a typical reform message, "DIVERTING A PASTIME: How Are We To Protect the City's Youth and Yet Provide for the Natural Demand for Entertainment?" by Belle Lindner Israels, a former settlement worker at the Educational Alliance and a regular contributor to The Survey, a leading reform weekly. [The article is available online at the American Social History website.] Lindner Israels told the story, supposedly typical, of a young immigrant named Frieda:

When Frieda went out to do errands she noticed that there were streets with places other than stores. There were brightly lighted halls, from whose open windows strains of music floated and across which forms flitted in rhythmic motion. One evening she drifted in. She found that she did not need to know English to be welcome. At once she found the things that she missed at home—life, joy, laughter and young people. It was easy here. She was pretty, and as girls are always in demand at dances she soon was being shown the dance by a youth whose evident business it was to give her some return for the twenty-five cents she had paid for a "lesson." Quickly she learned the value of knowing how to dance—and still more quickly did her popularity grow with the boys who came to the hall. From that hall she learned to go to others—others where she was taught that to be really popular it was also essential to learn to drink "stylish drinks" and that dancing without drinking was "slow." Then, one night, when her head was whirling from excitement and dazed with drink, the man who had been playing with her for weeks in order to gain that end took her not home, but to a place where she offered on the altar of her "good time" the sacred gift of her girlhood—all she had to lose. She never turned again from the path that began in the kitchen of the tenement, longing for the birthright of her youth. She followed it through the mazes of wretched slavery to men and walked to its end five years later in a reformatory to which she had been committed and where her nameless baby was born. It was the price paid.

Working girls were only somewhat more likely to hear the message of the "New Woman" reformer than they were Sunday's call for abstinence. As the subtitle of Lindner Israels' article indicates, reformers sought to find "healthful" and "safe" outlets for the "natural" desire for fun. Jane Addams' The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1909) is deservedly considered the classic statement of this point of view. [It is available online at Jim Zwick's Campaign to End Child Labor site.] Reform literature contains many stories like Israels' account of Freida. And no doubt the stories were true. Working girls who went to dance halls learned that the young men who treated expected some sexual favor in return. If they did not oblige, they could expect no treat the next time. But, most did not wind up following "the mazes of wretched slavery to men," even if more than a few "offered on the altar of her 'good time' the sacred gift of girlhood.'" There were Sadie Frownes as well as Friedas among the "working girls."

Below is John Sloan's 1907 painting, "Movies, five cents." In it he captured the mixed nature of the audience and the titilating nature of the entertainment. Sadie Frowne loved melodramas, especially sad ones that made you cry. Many early silent films catered to her tastes. Others, like the one Sloan pictured, emphasized romance and featured what was, for the time, daring behavior, at least on stage. Anyone with a nickel could go to "the pictures" and forget the troubles of the day. As the Outlook illustration reproduced above showed, one could also go to meet a potential romantic partner. Young men and women looked each other over on line and decided if they would go in together. Once in the darkened theatre, they would negotiate the degree to which they would emulate the couple on the screen. Such behavior was new. And it would percolate up from the working classes to the rest of the society until, by the 1920s, it would become normative.

Working-class women in New York, Chicago, and other urban centers could not receive suitors in their parlors. They lived in crowded tenements or apartment blocks with no space for entertaining. [At right is a 1903 photograph of Hester Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan from the collections of the National Archives. Click on the image for a larger version.] Often, as with Sadie Frowne, there was no family member to act as chaperone. If, like Sadie, they met someone they liked, in her case on the job, they would go out on what would come to be called dates. Sadie and Henry, although the expression was not yet in use, were going steady.

Sadie and her friends, with the active cooperation of local entrepreneurs, not only created a new system of behavior, they also helped to develop a new ethos. For Sadie, the temptation to be resisted was the impulse to stay at home. The duty was to "have some pleasure." It was as necessary as getting "some air." Life was hard. Sadie worked sixty or more hours a week during the busy seasons. She did not earn much money. Of that little she not only supported herself, she also had put more than $200 in the bank. She intended to save more before deciding whether or not to marry Henry who was only nineteen himself. She was a loyal member of her union. She continued going to night school.

Plenty of my friends go there. Some of the women in my class are more than forty years of age. Like me, they did not have a chance to learn anything in the old country. It is good to have an education; it makes you feel higher. Ignorant people are all low. People say now that I am clever and fine in conversation.

Sadie was resilent and resourceful. She and her friends wanted to make something of themselves, to feel "higher." Sadie liked being in "high society" at Ulmer Park and Coney Island. She enjoyed putting on "plenty of style" and liked "all sorts of pleasure." She knew she would have to continue to work long and hard to achieve her goals, but she was determined to resist the "temptation" to just sit in her room. While Sunday condemned the quest for pleasure as sinful, Israels, Addams, and other New Women who came of age at the end of the nineteenth century, accepted the "natural" desire for entertainment among the working poor. Yet their view of the sorts of pleasure the poor found differed little from Sunday's. Addams wrote:

As these overworked girls stream along the street, the rest of us see only the self-conscious walk, the giggling speech, the preposterous clothing. And yet through the huge hat, with its wilderness of bedraggled feathers, the girl announces to the world that she is here. She demands attention to the fact of her existence, she states that she is ready to live, to take her place in the world.

Unfortunately, there were no wholesome outlets for the working girl's desire for pleasure:

In every city arise so-called "places" — "gin-palaces," they are called in fiction; in Chicago we euphemistically say merely "places," — in which alcohol is dispensed, not to allay thirst, but, ostensibly to stimulate gaiety, it is sold really in order to empty pockets. Huge dance halls are opened to which hundreds of young people are attracted, many of whom stand wistfully outside a roped circle, for it requires five cents to procure within it for five minutes the sense of allurement and intoxication which is sold in lieu of innocent pleasure. These coarse and illicit merrymakings remind one of the unrestrained jollities of Restoration London, and they are indeed their direct descendants, properly commercialized, still confusing joy with lust, and gaiety with debauchery. Since the soldiers of Cromwell shut up the people's playhouses and destroyed their pleasure fields, the Anglo-Saxon city has turned over the provision for public recreation to the most evil-minded and the most unscrupulous members of the community. We see thousands of girls walking up and down the streets on a pleasant evening with no chance to catch a sight of pleasure even through a lighted window, save as these lurid places provide it. Apparently the modern city sees in these girls only two possibilities, both of them commercial: first, a chance to utilize by day their new and tender labor power in its factories and shops, and then another chance in the evening to extract from them their petty wages by pandering to their love of pleasure.

Sunday and Addams both phrased their disapproval of dancing in the language of protection. For Addams, working girls needed protection from those "evil-minded" entrepreneurs who pandered "to their love of pleasure." The use of "pandering" in this context is revealing. It was as close as Addams came to acknowledging what Sunday said bluntly, that the dance "was a sexual love feast" whose purpose was sexual arousal. In saying this, Sunday was stating the obvious. In Jewish neighborhoods, according to Kathy Peiss, dancing was called "spieling," spinning. The woman put her arms around the male's neck, he put his around her waist, and the couple spun in a tight circle to the tempo of the music.

Amusement parks also invited customers to engage in sexual play. Some of the pleasures they offered Addams and Lindner Israels might have judged innocent enough. You could have yourself photographed as a mermaid or King Neptune by sticking your head through a cardboard cutout. Others openly appealed to "coarse" instincts. Such were the "Tickler" and the "Virginia Reel" which, along with many other rides, are described in detail on Jeffrey Stanton's website on Luna Park. He writes:

Both the Tickler and Elmer Riehl's Virginia Reel were similar rides where passengers rode in rotating saucer shaped cars down an incline plane. However the Tickler's cars mounted on coaster wheels caromed down to the bottom through a maze of posts and rails, while the Virginia Reel's cars rode on tracks past protruding posts that caused them to randomly spin as they serpentined downward into its final whirlpool. The Tickler invented by William Mangels needed large rubber bumping rings to cushion the collisions as its passengers were jostled, jolted and even bounced about in their seats. At the end of the ride passengers were often so hopelessly entangled that attendants had to help them from their seats. When Mangels applied for a concession for his ride in 1906, Thompson [co-owner of Luna Park] looked at his drawings and then in his brusque manner said, "You'll need barrels to take away your money. Come in tomorrow morning for your contract." Luna's standard contract specified that 20% of the gross receipts went to the park. Thompson was right about the Tickler's popularity; 421,000 ten cent admissions were sold in 1907

As the middle classes ventured to Luna Park or Dreamland, they encountered a fantastic world of spectacles such as the "The Fall of Port Arthur" at Luna Park in 1905. They encountered as well a set of rides designed to appeal to working-class young men and women such as the "Helter Skelter". It was a ride for couples. You took an escalator to the top of a huge chute. There were two separate paths to the bottom. The couple slid down through various curves, initially side-by-side, then separated, and then together again, and landed on a mattress in front of a crowd. Most riders started as onlookers. Part of the thrill was seeing the clothing of the female riders in disarray as they slid down. The "Tickler" afforded the same pleasure since it too included space for onlookers to watch as riders attempted to disentangle themselves and straighten out their clothes.

If a middle-class couple left Luna Park or Dreamland for one of the dance halls frequented by Sadie and Henry, they heard raucous ragtime music, perhaps for the first time, and saw people doing the new "animal dances" and other species of "rough dancing." They might, if they so desired, declare their disapproval and leave. Many did not. They stayed, learned the steps, and found themselves enjoying themselves. Those entrepreneurs who catered to the "working girl" and her boy friend had studied their customers. They were in the business of retailing pleasure. Jeffrey Stanton writes of the owners of Luna Park that they got rid of any attraction that did not make money. If a particular attraction proved popular, they added news ones like it.

In part, then, this diffusion of working girl behavior was owing to Addams' "most evil-minded" and "most unscrupulous" providers of commercialized pleasure. Nickelodeons provide another case in point. They became actual "palaces." In the downtown of every sizeable community in the 1920s arose a movie theatre of immense size, complete with fantastic decor and ushers in smart uniforms, where ordinary folk, middle as well as working class, could live out fantasies. [For an extended discussion on this site, see "Revues and Other Vanities: The Commodification of Fantasy."]

Commercialization will explain only so much. Consider the popularity of dances that struck Addams and her colleagues, as well as Billy Sunday, as "coarse" and "illicit." As the lyric of one novelty dance tune put it: "Everybody's doin' it./Doin' what?/Turkey trot." The Turkey Trot, the Bunny Hug, and the other dance crazes swept the nation because people enjoyed doing them, not because "evil-minded" entrepreneurs enticed them into "lurid places." In addition to the cakewalk — click here for the Clarence Williams' Blues Five's 1925 recording of "Cakewalking Babies From Home" featuring Louis Armstrong on cornet and Sidney Bechet on clarinet at the Red Hot Jazz Archive — and the two step, there were the "animal dances." These included the Turkey Trot, the Bunny Hug, the Chicken Scratch, the Grizzly Bear, the Snake, the Crab Step, and the Fox Trot. Later came the One Step and the Texas Tommy. [Click here to hear James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra's 1913 recording of "Too Much Mustard" at the Red Hot Jazz Archive.] Europe's orchestra accompanied Irene and Vernon Castle, whose dance act topped the bill at the Palace and other vaudeville theatres and who popularized many of the dances. They authored a manual, Modern Dancing (1914), in which they diagrammed the steps. [It is available at the Library of Congress' American Memory site.]

Most of the dances were African-American in origin. The Castles, pictured above, insisted on Reese's Society Orchestra because they argued that only black musicians could play the music properly. Yet the Castles offered toned-down, almost decorous, versions. This is a key to understanding how diffusion of demotic cultural practices and values took place. The Castles removed class, ethnic, and racial associations which had served to stigmatize both the music and the dances in the eyes of middle and upper-class Americans of northern European backgrounds. They did not seek to disguise the origins of the dances. Indeed, by insisting upon Europe's Society Orchestra, they emphasized them. What they offered were elegant, graceful performances of "animal" dances. It was every working girl's dream to dance like Irene Castle. And many a working boy wished he were Vernon Castle. These were the dreams of many of the more affluent as well. But they could not learn to dance like the Castles by taking lessons at the dance academies. And it was not so easy to learn by following a diagram in a book. Hence Faulkner Shaw's lament that "boys and girls of good families brazenly frequent the lowest dives in order to learn new dance steps." This is a second key to the process of diffusion. Alongside the acceptable, there lay the forbidden. And it was just as accessible.

White musicians, like the Original Dixieland Jass Band, quickly began to play versions of the new music. In 1917 they recorded "Darktown Strutters Ball" for Victor. It was one of the most popular songs of the day. The sheet music displayed black couples, viciously stereotyped, in formal dress, doing the latest steps. [Click on the image to hear the Original Dixieland Jass Band recording at the Red Hot Jazz Archive.] It would not take long, however, for black musicians to begin to attract white listeners. Phonograph records originally marketed only to African Americans sold more broadly by the mid-1920s.

The first whites to adopt the new music and the new dances were the immigrant working girl and boy. Sadie went to dance halls that catered to "high society" in her estimation; Addams would have included them in her list of "lurid places." Sadie loved to dance, a pleasure she would never have described as "coarse" or "illicit." But both Billy Sunday and Jane Addams would have judged her "spieling" with Henry to be exactly that. Sadie would certainly have resented having her taste in clothes dismissed as "preposterous," had she known of Addams' description. She cultivated "style" and plenty of it. This cultural chasm guaranteed that, despite the best will in the world, the "New Woman" would have next to no influence on the "working girl" in her quest for amusement. Sadie went her own way.

She did not go alone, however. Sadie Frowne's sense of entitlement to pleasure and to a sense of self-esteem became normative. This is a crucial difference between the "modern woman" of the 1920s and the New Woman of the 1880s and 1890s. The New Woman was the first to attend college. She longed, as Addams put it in Twenty Years at Hull House, for an "outlet" for her "active faculties." Addams herself burned to find something to do, some way of playing an active part in the life around her. She tried medicine, rejected Christian missionary work, and then discovered the settlement house while on a grand tour of Europe. Back in Illinois she and a college friend opened Hull House. Addams, Florence Kelley who founded the National Consumers' League, Alice Hamilton who pioneered public health as a medical specialty, and hundreds of others who followed Addams' example discovered myriad ways of inserting themselves into the life about them. These New Women justified their new roles in terms of the ideal of service to others. They could be, and were, as aggressive and ambitious as the men they dealt with. But their aggression and ambition was not for themselves. Addams memorably expressed the notion in "The Subjective Necessity for the Social Settlement." Based upon an address given eighteen years earlier, this chapter in Twenty Years At Hull House was "an attempt to analyze the motives which underlie a movement based, not only upon conviction, but upon genuine emotion, wherever educated young people are seeking an outlet for that sentiment for universal brotherhood, which the best spirit of our times is forcing from an emotion into a motive." Like Addams herself before founding Hull House:

these young people accomplish little toward the solution of this social problem, and bear the brunt of being cultivated into unnourished, oversensitive lives. They have been shut off from the common labor by which they live which is a great source of moral and physical health. They feel a fatal want of harmony between their theory and their lives, a lack of co-ordination between thought and action.

How was someone like Addams, educated, ambitious, to make something of her life, to push herself into the life around her? The answer lay in service to those less fortunate.

I think it is hard for us to realize how seriously many of them are taking to the notion of human brotherhood, how eagerly they long to give tangible expression to the democratic ideal. These young men and women, longing to socialize their democracy, are animated by certain hopes which may be thus loosely formulated; that if in a democratic country nothing can be permanently achieved save through the masses of the people, it will be impossible to establish a higher political life than the people themselves crave; that it is difficult to see how the notion of a higher civic life can be fostered save through common intercourse; that the blessings which we associate with a life of refinement and cultivation can be made universal and must be made universal if they are to be permanent; that the good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, is floating in mid-air, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.

Addams, as the title of her chapter indicated, wanted to explain how this altruism satisfied a deep and urgent need of the settlement worker. It provided a purpose, a meaning for their lives which otherwise were "shriveled."

It is easier to state these hopes than to formulate the line of motives, which I believe to constitute the trend of the subjective pressure toward the Settlement. There is something primordial about these motives, but I am perhaps overbold in designating them as a great desire to share the race life. We all bear traces of the starvation struggle which for so long made up the life of the race. Our very organism holds memories and glimpses of that long life of our ancestors, which still goes on among so many of our contemporaries. Nothing so deadens the sympathies and shrivels the power of enjoyment as the persistent keeping away from the great opportunities for helpfulness and a continual ignoring of the starvation struggle which makes up the life of at least half the race. To shut one's self away from that half of the race life is to shut one's self away from the most vital part of it; it is to live out but half the humanity to which we have been born heir and to use but half our faculties. We have all had longings for a fuller life which should include the use of these faculties. These longings are the physical complement of the "Intimations of Immortality," on which no ode has yet been written. To portray these would be the work of a poet, and it is hazardous for any but a poet to attempt it.

Thousands of young women heard Addams' message, shown at right in an 1878 photograph at age eighteen. Frances Perkins, for example, went from investigative work with the National Consumers' League to heading the investigations undertaken in the wake of the Triangle Fire, to working for Al Smith when he was governor of New York in the twenties, to becoming Secretary of Labor during the New Deal. Sisters Mary and Margaret Drier used some of their considerable inheritance to launch the Women's Trade Union League which played a key role in enabling the Ladies Garment Union to stage the "Uprising of the Twenty Thousand" in 1909, the first successful strike by women workers. As Ellen Condliffe Lageman explored in A Generation of Women: Education in the Lives of Progressive Reformers (1979), the Dreier sisters and many other women of their generation followed Addams' example and justified their demand for a larger role for themselves in the name of service to others. As the example of Frances Perkins suggests, this impulse did not wither in the 1920s or 1930s.

Yet the New Woman had only somewhat more success reaching the working girl than Billy Sunday had. Many joined settlement house clubs or trade unions the Women's Trade Union League sponsored. Hilda Satt, like Sadie a Jewish immigrant from Poland, described the many ways in which Hull House deepened and shaped her life in I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl (1989):

This oasis in a desert of boredom and monotony became the university, the opera house, the theater, the concert and lecture hall, the gymnasium, the library, the clubhouse of the neighborhood. It was a place where one could become rejuvenated after a day of hard work in the factory.

Thousands benefitted from Hull House; hundreds of thousands benefitted from the hundreds of other settlements. But this had little effect on the pursuit of "pleasure." Wholesome alternatives did not avail any more than condemnations of dance halls or amusement parks did.

Evangelical and Progressive efforts to protect thus had almost no impact on the emerging demotic culture. Immigrant churches, particularly the Catholic Church, did. Just as the new ethos of pleasure came out of the ethnic working class, so did the new inhibitions which reined it in. This dialogue within the ethnic communities has not been attended to by scholars, but its importance in shaping popular attitudes and behavior can scarcely be overstated.

The churches' relative success in resisting and restraining the new ethos is not easy to document. As historian David O'Brien has pointed out in Public Catholicism (1989), the American Catholic Church did not act on a national basis until World War I. Instead each diocese and, in many cases, each parish, operated with a good deal of autonomy. In some instances there are relatively full records of their programs. In others there are not. This makes generalizations hazardous. We will turn to two well-documented cases, Worcester's Irish Catholics and Chicago's Polish Catholics, as studied in Timothy J. Meagher's recent Inventing Irish America: Generation, Class, and Ethnic Identity in a New England city, 1880-1928 (2001) and the classic The Polish Peasant in Europe and America by W. I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki (2nd ed., 1927).

Both Worcester's Irish and Chicago's Poles created dense institutional networks with local parishes as the centers of community life. Worcester's Irish were reluctant to build parochial schools, but that was due to their success in gaining the lion's share of the teaching positions in the public schools by the end of the nineteenth century. This difference aside, their parishes and those of Chicago's Poles were strikingly similar. In both there were organizations for all kinds of social activities. There were choirs, bands, drama societies, athletic teams. Parishes sponsored plays and dances and concerts. They published newsletters. In each a small professional class of doctors, lawyers, and undertakers joined with a small entrepreneurial class of saloonkeepers and contractors to provide leadership. They and their wives often led societies which visited the sick of the parish or distributed alms to the needy. One can find comparably dense communities among Swedish Lutherans, Orthodox Jews, and A.M.E. Zion and other African-American churches.

Density of community life meant that canons of respectable behavior were reinforced at every point. School children wore uniforms. Dances did not feature the new jazz or the latest steps. And there were chaperones. Drama societies put on "wholesome" plays. Further, the examples of the Irish school teacher or the Polish physician or lawyer modelled behavior. This is how a "proper" lady or gentleman acts was the message. And community members genuinely looked up to those teachers and doctors and lawyers.

Not everyone within these communities agreed with Victorian values. Meagher documents the split among Worcester's Irish over alcohol. The upwardly mobile, and those who wished to be, espoused temperance and belonged to the Father Matthew Society. Working-class Irish joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians and were defiantly "wet." Each year a council of Irish societies would debate the issue in the context of the upcoming St. Patrick's Day holiday. The Father Matthew members routinely voted against holding the parade. Their argument was that the drinking associated with it harmed the overall image of the community. The Hibernians voted in favor. They argued that the Yankee community would think the worst of the Irish no matter what they did or did not do.

Victorian proprieties served numerous functions in these communities. One is that they expressed deeply held moral beliefs, especially regarding sexuality. Another is that they provided a means of gaining of respectability to people who could not expect respect from the larger society. Thomas and Znaniecki argue very persuasively that the woman who became president of the Ladies Soladity or the man who chaired the youth baseball council attained a real measure of status. Their neighbors looked up to them. And, given the very large number of parish organizations and the very large number of offices in each, this sort of respectability was within the reach of anyone willing to take the time and trouble to gain it. Status afforded its own pleasures.

From WWI on, as Catholics began to form national organizations, it becomes easier to trace the church's commitment to propriety. Frank Walsh has documented the role the church played in movie censorship in Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry (1996). Protestant and Jewish groups protested the amount of sexuality, violence, and lawlessness in movies at least as outspokenly as did Catholics. But it was the Catholic Church that could muster millions of members, organized in the Legion of Decency and committed to boycotting any film which the Legion declared "objectionable." The new Motion Picture Production Code of 1934, a compendium of Victorian do's and don'ts, reflected Catholic pressure.

Density of parish life made the black and ethnic churches and synagogues uniquely powerful socializing agencies. Sadie Frowne and many of her friends, in contrast, were on their own. They took jobs, joined unions, decided to attend night classes at the local public school in the same way they selected boy friends, went to plays and movies, and learned the newest dance steps. Those who belonged to highly articulated parish communities made fewer such decisions. They found their friends inside the community, socialized at parish-sponsored events, played in church-sponsored leagues.

Sadie and her friends were much less integrated into the social networks of their ethnic communities. Sadie was a Jew but did not mention any connection to any Jewish organization in her description of her daily life. In this she had any number of nominally Catholic, Greek or Russian Orthodox, Jewish, and Protestant counterparts. Every American city had its population of young people living on their own. At work they rubbed elbows with fellow workers who did belong to family, church, and ethnic communities. The unattached had a certain glamor, "plenty of style," as Sadie would put it. They often had nicer clothes because they did not turn their pay envelopes over to their mothers. They went to exciting places. They had boy friends or girl friends they could see whenever they wanted. They knew the newest dance steps. As a result, although the immigrant and black churches had far more success in reaching the "working girl" than either the evangelical Protestant churches or the New Woman enjoyed, the new ethos Sadie Frowne expressed so naively continued to gain ground.

Churches recognized, even as they lamented, this. A new moral authority was arising in their midst, the peer group. If a young woman accepted a treat at a dance hall, just what should she do in return? Churches could hardly attempt to answer. Doing anything would be immoral in their eyes. But this created a vacuum. If doing anything was immoral, but the girl had to do something, how was she to decide? She talked with her friends. They decided collectively what was and was not appropriate. So too with dancing. How high could she lift her skirt in doing the cakewalk? So too with alcohol and a host of other matters. Churches attempted to respond not simply by condemning peer group morality but by attempting to create peer groups under their own aegis. The Catholic Youth Organization, like the settlement houses, sponsored clubs of all sorts. In those clubs, the hope was, young men and women would find decent friends from good homes. And the clubs had clerical advisors as well. Out of this overlooked dialogue within the ethnic and African-American communities would come the workaday rules of the new demotic culture. It would determine "how far" a "nice girl" could go, for example.

There were other societal forces at work as well. The dance halls and amusement parks the New Woman reformers so loathed were early signs of a profound shift in the workings of the American economy. By 1920, for the first time in human history, consumer demand would provide the principal impetus to economic growth. An avalanche of new products — toasters, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, radios — promised to make life easier and more enjoyable. [At left is a 1924 ad. Click on the image for a larger version. For a taste of what the "blues from Memphis" may have sounded like, listen to Richard M. Jones' Three Jazz Wizards playing "New Orleans Shag" (1925) at the Red Hot Jazz Archive.]

The radio provided another, and extremely powerful, medium of cultural diffusion. Respectable, middle-class whites could now hear the blues in their own living rooms. As with the rides at Luna Park, consumer choice determined what programs would air. As with dancing, there would be relatively decorous programs featuring Rudy Vallee or Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians. And there would be stations, usually at the far right end of the dial, aiming programing at black or Jewish or Polish listeners. In the nature of the medium, anyone could listen to anything, provided only he or she could capture the signal. Recognizing this as a key selling point, advertisers stressed their product's unique ability to bring in distant programs.

People not only bought new consumer goods, often on the installment plan, they bought familiar goods in far greater numbers. Shoes provide an example. Most people owned only two or perhaps three pair prior to the war. In the 1920s, however, shoes became accessories to dresses. No longer could one wear the same black shoes with everything and be in style. [For an informative and entertaining exploration, visit Solemates: The Century in Shoes.]

Roland Marchand in Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940 (1985) traced the successful efforts of soap manufacturers to sell men on the idea of shaving every day and men and women both on the idea of changing their clothes every day. Prior to the war, closets typically were less than a foot deep and had two hooks, one for everyday clothes and one for one's "Sunday best." People took a bath on Saturday night. Washing every day, changing one's clothes every day, shaving every day, meant more than using a lot more soap. It meant owning a dozen chemises and blouses and skirts instead of two or three.

"New Era" capitalism promoted an ethos of consumption. In doing so advertisers built upon the work of the department store merchants. William Leach's Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (1993) is the classic analysis. Department stores, to use Jane Addams' word, were "palaces" of consumption. Their display windows tempted passersbys with visions of luxury and glamor. The term window-shopping described the common practice of strolling up and down a downtown commercial street just to see what was new. The message the displays sent was the one Sadie Frowne articulated so emphatically: If a girl wanted to be popular, she needed to "put on plenty of style." The message had innumerable variants.

John Wanamaker, the Philadelphia and New York department store pioneer, was a devout Presbyterian. But his store preached the gospel of consumption. Restraint, abstinence, deferred gratification, those cornerstones of Victorian propriety, had no place in the successful marketing of the thousands of different products Wanamaker sold. Where he led, others followed. Leach focuses on the great stores, Wanamaker's, Macy's, and the like. There were, however, many more modest enterprises where consumers like Sadie Frowne, who could not afford the goods at Wanamaker's, shopped. Artist Harry Grant Dart made fun of the proliferation of stores and their slogans and signs in "Picturesque America" (1909). [Click on the image for a larger version.] Dart exaggerated, but only a little. [For a detailed discussion of the ways in which movies and other forms of the rapidly expanding entertainment industry also promoted the pursuit of pleasure, see "Revues and Other Vanities: The Commodification of Fantasy."]

The ethos of consumption strikingly reinforced the views expressed by Sadie and her friends. More was better. Pleasure was good. Life was hard so you should enjoy yourself when you could. This meant clothes, dancing, and plenty of style. Advertisers directly attacked Victorian values. One can see this in the Modess campaign which took a whole series of hot botton issues of the 1920s and dismissed the upholders of traditional views as hopelessly out of step with the times. Consider another ad in the "Modernizing Mother" campaign, "Don't Fuss, Mother, This Isn't So Fast." [For a larger version, in which the text is legible, click on the image.] In the parlance of the day, a girl who was "fast," broke the sexual rules. She not only flirted and petted. She went further. Mothers and daughters had for years argued about whether wearing skirts at the knee, rolling stockings below the knee, taking off her corset at a dance, smoking cigarettes, using rouge and lipstick made the daughter look "fast." How many of those daughters had said "Don't Fuss, Mother," had remonstrated that what they wanted to do wasn't "so fast"?

Speed! Life is all a-tingle at twenty. The girl of today travels without an anchor. There's too much fun ahead for thought of fear—too many prizes to be won to be satisfied with common things. Do older people really object—are they not just as eager in spirit to escape drabness and drudgery and feel again the thrill of being young?

The old proprieties, "repressions" in some of the ads, "drudgeries" in all of them, rested upon fear. But "the girl of today" has banished fear. "There's too much fun ahead. . . ."

Other ad campaigns were equally dismissive. The ad at left for Lucky Strike cigarettes proclaims "An Ancient Prejudice Has Been Removed." "American Intelligence," in red, white, and blue, has shattered the chain of "false modesty" that kept people from "better health and pure enjoyment." All throughout the twenties hundreds of communities had sought to censor bathing costumes. Local ordinances required women to wear stockings and prohibited one-piece bathing suits. Towns employed censors who arrested those who offended. [For a detailed recounting, see "Revues and Other Vanities: The Commodification of Fantasy."] By the time the ad appeared, the battle was over. No one wore stockings to bathe. The one-piece suit had ceased to shock. "American Intelligence" had triumphed over "false modesty."

Why would a cigarette manufacturer take such a cultural stand? To sell the idea that thinking it was unladylike to smoke was just another "ancient prejudice." The phrase "pure enjoyment" is especially cunning. The "sensible" one-piece suit did make it easier to swim. Stockings and skirts had gotten in the way. So, the swimmer in the one-piece suit took more pleasure. "Pure" also complemented "false modesty." There was nothing wrong with a woman going bare-legged to the beach. To think otherwise was to be trapped in the "repressions" of the "nineties." Enjoyment itself was "pure." There was no conflict between pleasure and purity. Billy Sunday knew otherwise. So did Jane Addams. The ethos that flowed out of the need to stimulate consumer demand necessarily entailed a repudiation of both Evangelical values and the selflessness of the New Woman. And the working girls were the first to embody that ethos.

Working girls grew up relatively untouched by the principle voices supporting older values, unless they belonged to a highly articulated ethnic community where those values continued to define upward mobility. If they were more or less on their own, as many were, they developed their own codes of behavior based upon their economic situations, the judgments of their peers, and inducements provided by the mushrooming amusement industry. If they were integrated into a parish or synagogue community, they mediated the contest between a new license to pursue pleasure and efforts to rein in licentious behavior. In both cases they were social and cultural pioneers.

Following close behind were middle and upper-class young women and men who also began to exercise more independence in the pursuit of pleasure. They joined in the dance crazes, went to amusement parks and movies, and listened to the blues on the radio. And they rapidly adopted the new codes of behavior — meeting members of the opposite sex in public spaces, dating, treating,— as well as the reliance upon peers to establish boundaries of permissable behavior. In all of this they received the encouragement of spokespeople of what became "New Era" capitalism who extolled consumption, whether of goods or of fantasy. And they provoked the concern and indignation of those who had earlier raised the alarm about the working girl.

In this process of cultural diffusion, as I have tried to show, class, ethnic, and racial markers could blur or even disappear. The modern young woman of the Modess ads bore no visible resemblance to the working girl. As Roland Marchand and other students of advertising have shown, almost all of the faces and names in the ads suggested northern European origins. Blacks appeared, except when the ads explicitly targeted them, only as menials. Immigrants from southern and eastern Europe appeared rarely, and then as sources of danger. In the Lifebuoy ad at right, the immigrant pedlar and his customer serve as potential sources of infection for the WASP bank teller and his family. [For a larger version, click on the image.] Nordic features were normative as were Anglo-Saxon names.

Such was also true of the showgirls of Ziegfeld's Follies which "glorified the American girl." Ziegfeld insisted upon an "American" look. The headliners of the Follies were a different story. Bert Wheeler, long the star comedian, was black. Fanny Brice and Eddie Cantor were Jewish and their humor had a distinctive Yiddish flavor. So too in vaudeville where Jewish and Irish acts often headed the bill. WASPs did not dominate movies either. Mary Pickford was "America's Sweetheart," to be sure. But Rudolph Valentino and Ramon Navarro were romantic idols. [For an extended analysis, see "Passing from Light into Dark" on this site.]

Explaining when or whether class, ethnic, and racial markers, not to mention which ones, would fade is challenging, to say the least. It is far too complex to take up here. But, this analysis offers several clues. One is the simultaneous popularity of both reputable and raw versions of dances, songs, jokes, and other cultural products. Part of the allure of the reputable versions was that they were not racially, ethnically, or class marked. At the same time, the limits reputabiity imposed lent a forbidden glamor to those versions which were so marked.

Another clue comes from the need, or lack thereof, to appeal to a mass market. To the extent an advertiser wanted millions to identify with the imaginary consumer in an ad, racial, ethnic, and working class markers disappeared. Affluent consumers would not identify with any figure so marked. Black consumers, ethnic consumers, working-class consumers, on the other hand, would identify with an affluent figure with Nordic features and an Anglo-Saxon name. Movies do not follow this pattern because the product in question was fantasy, pure and simple, as opposed to some good or service wrapped in a fantasy. One could daydream about being a bullfighter or a sheik or about being carried off by one. In deciding which soap to use, on the other hand, one wanted to know that "more debutantes use Woodbury" than any other bar. One wanted, that is, as I argue at some length in "Revues and Other Vanities: The Commodification of Fantasy," assurance that one was buying the right soap. Advertisers offered that assurance by protraying affluent figures in their ads.

Clearly, there is much more to say on this subject. But the absence of ethnic markers in portrayals of the modern young woman should no longer prevent us from seeing the immigrant working girl's role in her emergence.