Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

11 Things Women Couldn't Do In The 1920s

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sneaking into speakeasies, becoming working women, and winning the right to vote—looking back, the Roaring Twenties seem to have been a great time for women's advancement, but women still faced heavy restrictions in day-to-day life. These 11 social and legal no-nos plagued women of the 1920s, though many fought the system and eventually won expanded rights.

1. HAVE THEIR OWN NAME PRINTED ON A PASSPORT

Couple on board a ship, circa the 1920s.
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Requesting a passport in the 1920s was a pretty straightforward process—if you were a man. For female travelers, passport applications could be rejected based on the name they used or because their husband was already issued a passport. Unmarried women could apply using their maiden name, but married women were issued a joint passport with their husbands, where in place of their name, the passport granted travel privileges to "wife of" (followed by the husband's name). Married women who requested separate passports could receive them, but were often met with rejections or headaches if trying to use their maiden name, since passports were automatically issued with their husband's surname.

2. WEAR WHATEVER THEY WANTED

Two actresses taking pictures in 1925.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Even though 1920s fashion history is dominated by the flapper style—featuring knee-length hemlines, shift-style garments, and bobbed haircuts—women in many parts of the country still faced stifling clothing restrictions. In Virginia, a legislative bill (which failed to pass) attempted to prohibit women from wearing "shirtwaists or evening gowns which displayed more than three inches of her throat," while Utah legislators worked to fine women whose skirts were "higher than three inches above the ankle." And in cities like Carmel, California, women couldn't wear heels taller than two inches without a permit from the city in an attempt to stifle tripping and falling related lawsuits.

3. HAVE CERTAIN KINDS OF JOBS

Women boxing on a ship, 1923.
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Women entered the workforce in large numbers during World War I, and the return to peacetime in the 1920s didn't slow the growth of women's employment. But, workplace restrictions did make it difficult for women to find jobs outside of the home. So-called "protective laws" cropped up throughout the country, regulating how, when, and where women could work. Some states, such as Michigan, penned loose laws that banned dangerous work for women, while in Ohio, women were prohibited from jobs where men could "negatively influence women’s behavior," such as being taxi drivers, pool hall workers, or bowling alley employees.

4. KEEP THEIR CITIZENSHIP IF MARRYING A NON-CITIZEN

1925 cover of Ladies' Home Journal.
cloth098, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Finding the right partner and getting married is tricky enough, but for women who married a non-American between 1907 and 1922, it came with some additional disadvantages. Thanks to the Expatriation Act, women who married non-citizens lost their U.S. citizenship automatically. While some women didn't notice a difference immediately, it became a sticking point when World War I rolled around. Since they were no longer American citizens, these women were forced to "register as enemy aliens," according to Linda Kerber, a gender and legal history professor at the University of Iowa. In 1922, the Cable Act passed, allowing women to retain their citizenship regardless of their betrothed’s citizenship—so long as he met the requirements for potential U.S. citizenship, too.

5. USE THEIR LAW DEGREES TO THE FULLEST

Woman sitting at a typewriter.
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Winning the right to vote opened the door to more than just political action for women in the 1920s; many could finally go on to become admitted to the bar and legally allowed to practice law. But, just because women were taking on court battles doesn't mean they had booming legal careers. Many law firms refused to hire women (and legally could do so), or hired female lawyers for office positions such as law librarians, secretaries, or stenographers. For many female lawyers, joining their father's or husband's practice was the only way they'd be able to argue cases in court.

6. WORK THE NIGHT SHIFT

A waitress in Harlem in the 1920s.
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

As another way to "protect women" from supposed rough men and health hazards, some states implemented laws prohibiting women from working late at night. New York did just that, with laws forbidding women to work as waitresses between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. But that doesn't mean female employees followed the law. In 1924, Anna Smith, a Buffalo waitress working for Joseph Radice & Company, took on the state's law after her employer was fined for her late night shifts. While Smith and the restaurant owner lost their case, New York law did grant exceptions for entertainers and bathroom attendants.

7. TAKE A QUICK BATHROOM BREAK

Ladies' room sign
Crystal Hendrix Hirschorn, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

While public restrooms were designated "men's" or "women's" before the 1920s, it wasn't until 1927 that bathrooms became officially gender segregated thanks to the nation's first building code. Unfortunately, restroom requirements from the time period were male-focused, since most women of the time still worked within the home, meaning fewer women's restrooms were required during construction. Fewer bathrooms resulted in women trekking farther to find the ladies' room, and in some cases, even being barred admission to schools or jobs based on the lack of toilets available for their use.

8. HOLD A JOB WHILE PREGNANT

Woman wearing a trendy dress, 1925.
Seeberger Freres/General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Because legal protections for working moms and pregnant women didn't exist until 1978, women of the 1920s regularly faced unemployment after finding themselves "in the family way." Many employers considered pregnancy to be a detriment to job productivity, and fired women long before their due date. Some working women went to lengths of concealing their pregnancies, using the decade's loose flapper fashions to hide their changing bodies. Ads for maternity clothing even advertised styles to help women be "entirely free from embarrassment of a noticeable appearance during a trying period."

9. ENLIST OR RECEIVE BENEFITS FOR MILITARY WORK

Female operators at the switchboard of the Magneto Exchange of the National Telephone Company, USA.
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

During World War I, women helped with war efforts by serving in non-combat roles, such as nursing, communications, or clerical work. But, despite the long hours and duties, much of that work was on a volunteer basis or a civilian contract, meaning women couldn't earn any military or veterans' benefits for their efforts. Following the end of the Great War, women were cut from their volunteer positions thanks to military rules that banned women from volunteering or enlisting during peace times. It wasn't until the Women's Armed Services Integration Act in 1948 that women could enlist at any time and receive similar rights and benefits to male veterans.

10. HATE HOUSEWORK

A 1920s ad for mops.
An ad from a 1920 issue of Country Gentleman.
Don O'Brien, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Electric household tools and equipment helped free women of the 1920s from some domestic duties, while reducing the time spent on cleaning, cooking, and taking care of their homes. Even with home technology improvements, studies from the decade suggested women spent 35 hours per week or more on household work. But even with a little help, women of the '20s were expected to embrace their household work as a path to self-fulfillment. Advice columns and housekeeping experts of the time often suggested that women who were lucky enough to have fancy appliances but still hated housework "suffered from 'personal maladjustment,'" and women's magazines regularly championed women's stories of giving up careers or personal achievements for a return to 100 percent domesticity.

11. SERVE ON A JURY

The first all-woman jury called in the state of New Jersey, circa 1920.
The first all-woman jury called in the state of New Jersey, circa 1920.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Despite having the legal right to vote as of August 18, 1920, it would take decades for all women to be able to vote, much less serve on a jury. By the end of the Roaring Twenties, only 24 states permitted women to determine the innocence (or guilt) of their peers. While the remaining states began allowing women to serve in the following decades, Mississippi was the last holdout, keeping women out of jury pools until 1968.

arrow
Medicine
Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
NASA // Public Domain
arrow
History
On This Day in 1983, Sally Ride Made History
NASA // Public Domain
NASA // Public Domain

Thirty-five years ago today, on June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. She flew on the space shuttle Challenger on a six-day mission. She had previously helped build the shuttle's robot arm, and now she operated it in space. Not only was she the first American woman to go to space, she was the youngest astronaut in space, at age 32.

(As with many space-related firsts, that "American" qualifier is important. The Soviet space program had sent two women cosmonauts into space well in advance of Ride. Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova flew all the way back in 1963, and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. They also sent various younger people to space, including Tereshkova.)

Ride represented a change in the previously completely male astronaut program. Although NASA had unofficially tested women in the late 1950s as part of the Mercury program, the idea of sending women into space was quickly discarded. NASA policy for decades was that only men would be considered as astronauts. It took until 1978 for NASA to change the policy—that year, six women became astronauts: Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, Kathryn Sullivan, Anna Fisher, Margaret Rhea Seddon, and Shannon Lucid.

Ride and her colleagues were subject to an endless barrage of sexist media questions, curious how women might fare in space. They also encountered institutional sexism at NASA itself. Ride recalled:

"The engineers at NASA, in their infinite wisdom, decided that women astronauts would want makeup—so they designed a makeup kit. A makeup kit brought to you by NASA engineers. ... You can just imagine the discussions amongst the predominantly male engineers about what should go in a makeup kit."

Ride held a Ph.D. in astrophysics, two bachelor's degrees (English and physics), and had served as CapCom (Capsule Communicator) for the second and third shuttle flights, STS-2 and -3. She was an accomplished pilot and athlete, as well as a Presbyterian elder. She was closely connected to Challenger, performing two missions on it and losing four fellow members of her 1978 class when it exploded.

After her astronaut career concluded, Ride served on both the Challenger and Columbia disaster review panels. During the former, she leaked vital information about the Challenger disaster (o-ring engineering reports), though this wasn't broadly known until after her death. She wrote educational books and founded Sally Ride Science. She was asked to head up NASA by the Clinton administration, but declined.

Ride died in 2012 from pancreatic cancer. Her obituary made news for quietly mentioning that she was survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy. Although Ride had come out to her family and close friends, the obituary was the first public statement that she was gay. It was also the first time most people found out she'd suffered from pancreatic cancer at all; she asked that donations in her memory be made to a fund devoted to studying that form of cancer.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios