“Silent Sin is a gorgeous story set in the golden age of silent film.”–Joyfully Jay
My first historical novel, Silent Sin, released this week and I’m thrilled with the reception it’s getting. Yay! ~*~*~*confetti*~*~*~ The book is set in the early 1920s, as the film industry was first establishing its hold in Hollywood–much to the dismay of Hollywood’s previous residents, many of whom objected strongly to the “movies” (as they referred to the people working in motion pictures) encroaching on their once sleepy little town.
But the burgeoning popularity of films and film stars wasn’t the only thing affecting American society at the time. There were a couple of huge changes that made writing the book…interesting, shall we say? Although not as interesting as it was for the people living through the upheavals in the status quo!
The 1920s in the United States were very different from the previous decade. Two major reasons? The 18th and 19th amendments to the US Constitution.
Here’s the operative text of the 18th amendment:
“After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”
Prohibition in the house, baby. Yep, America decided that keeping people (IOW, men) out of saloons would solve poverty, reduce crime, and make families happy again.
Except, whoops—all those dudes who voted for it didn’t anticipate the Volstead Act, the law implementing the amendment, which defined “intoxicating liquors” to include beer and wine as well as distilled spirits. Wait. What?
Too late now.
And Prohibition didn’t outlaw drinking “intoxicating liquors”—it simply made them extremely difficult to obtain legally. Since the public’s determination to consume alcohol didn’t disappear at the same time it was outlawed, the production and sale of booze went underground (or sometimes just down the hall).
So during the twenties, ingenious Americans had to work around the letter of the law. They got their buzz from bootlegged gin, or smuggled whiskey, or cocktails at the nearest speakeasy. But they still got buzzed.
And the 19th amendment? Here’s its very succinct text:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
So when I said “the dudes who voted for it” up there? That’s a literal statement. Prohibition went into effect on January 17, 1920. Women weren’t constitutionally granted the right to vote until August 26th of that same year, even though some states had already enacted suffrage legislation, and in fact, the first woman had been elected to Congress in 1916 (Jeannette Pickering Rankin, R-Montana).
In the twenties, then, Americans were theoretically teetotalers, and women theoretically had the same voice in government as men. Of course, practice doesn’t always align with theory. Then, as now, women still struggled for equality.
And then, as now, people still got plastered.