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Abstract

Even after the passage of over 80 years, the perceived radical shift in morality in the 1920’s defies concrete definition. Many popular images seem to offer evidence that indicate a change in sexual propriety, with portrayals of scantily dressed flappers swigging illicit liquor from flasks, and racy advertisements for silk stockings showing off women’s legs, so soon after a time when women were covered from the neck to the ankle even at the beach. Religious and conservative leaders alluded to a total collapse of morality and blamed popular entertainment for degrading America’s youth. This paper analyzes primary sources from the 1920s in an effort to determine the attitudes of the people who experienced, and often shaped, the era. These sources suggest a wide variety of opinion among Americans and the existence of a fully developed sexual awareness lurking beneath the veneer of polite society long before the “roaring twenties.” Although it is not possible to prove or disprove a true “revolution” in sexual morality, this paper contributes to the ongoing discussion of the values which changed and those which were simply exposed by the light of a more tolerant time.

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