Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Way Back When-sday: 1927

I'm deep in research for my next novel. It's set in the summer of 1927 and I'm having a blast learning more about this dynamic decade.

The word that best describe the 1920's to me is change. After World War I, society changed overnight. The confines of culture fell away and freedom reigned. Women cut off their hair, shortened their dresses, and took off their corsets. Electrical appliance transformed the domestic life and lightened the load on the house wife. Hollywood began to transform the nation through motion pictures. Technology made it possible to spread news across the globe in a matter of minutes. Continents were connected through aviation. And women finally had the right to vote.

Ironically, in this time of freedom and relief from the confines of societal pressures, prohibition held fast. But the very law that made alcohol illegal, also made crime and corruption rampant.

As I research our local daily newspaper in the summer of 1927, many interesting tidbits of life jump out at me.

1. Aviation Ruled. On May 21st, 1927, a small airplane, carrying a young, unknown man from Minnesota, landed in Le Bourget, France, just 33 1/2 hours after it left New York. Charles A. Lindbergh instantly became the most famous man in the world. Six men died attempting the same flight in the weeks before Lindbergh successfully flew the Atlantic. The world held its breath until he landed safely, and then he became the first Super Star in history. The cameras loved this handsome Midwesterner. He captivated the world with his good looks and his daring accomplishment.

But one town on the planet was especially proud:. Little Falls, Minnesota, Lindy's hometown.

Photo courtesy of the Morrison County Historical Society
The reason I'm doing this research is because Little Falls is also my hometown, and my next story is set here in the summer of '27. Our little, inconspicuous town was now talked about in the New York Times and known around the world. Can you imagine?

He came home in August of 1927 on his Goodwill Tour. Between July 1927 and October 1927 he flew to all 48 states in the Union, and it's estimated that 1 in every 4 Americans went out to see him on the tour. Our town put on quite a celebration in honor of Lindbergh! And that's where I'm placing my hero and heroine--right in the midst of it all.

Every day, without fail, our local newspaper covered an aviation story. After Lindbergh made his trans-Atlantic flight, others followed in his footsteps. Flights were made from California to Hawaii, New York to Paris, across the United States, and on and on. One editor put it quite well:

Photo courtesy of the Morrison County Historical Society
2. Beauty Pageants Enthralled. One of the other interesting items I'm noticing in the newspaper is the sheer volume of beauty pageants and contests held in the 1920s. The daily paper has pictures of women from all across the US winning different pageants and contests. It's an interesting cultural element that I'll be studying more.

3. Hollywood Influenced. I'm amazed at how much the daily newspaper mentioned Hollywood--and not all of it was good. One of the main themes I've noticed, especially in the editorial pieces, is the influence Hollywood had on divorce. It seems that one divorce or another is mentioned almost every day. The editor makes many comments on how flippant actors and actresses were about marriage. It seems some things never change...

Photo courtesy of the Morrison
County Historical Society
Many other fun things were going on in the summer of 1927. President Coolidge was visiting the Black Hill of South Dakota, a young maid in a wealthy mansion in Canada fell in love with the heir and was having a grand wedding in the "wilderness," women were beginning to challenge the protocol for courting (by pursuing men!), and motoring on the weekends was becoming a popular past time.

1927 is a fun year to research and I can't wait to weave this information into the fabric of my story.

Your Turn: What word would you use to describe the 1920s? What intrigues you about this decade?


  1. The 20s are one of my absolute favorite times in history to read about. Like you said, it was all about change. And I feel like there was this sense of "We made it through the Great War. Party-time!" and then of course, wham, the Great Depression at the end of the decade. Just crazy and incredibly interesting times--especially for women. Can you imagine being a woman in the 20s? What it might feel like to finally get to feel at least a little more free to pursue your times.

    And of course, you know how fascinated I am by flying in general. Loved getting to see the Lindbergh museum and house last summer with you! Can't wait for your next book. :)

    1. Oh and Hollywood!!! Can't believe I forgot to mention that, too. You talk about being flippant about marriage in Hollywood...I think a lot of that had to do with the studio system and the crazy amount of control studios had over their stars.

  2. The beauty pageant thing is SO interesting. Keep sharing what you find!


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