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.

15 Fascinating Facts About Schindler’s List

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

In 1993, Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List brought to the screen a story that had gone untold since the tragic events of the Holocaust. Oskar Schindler, a Nazi party member, used his pull within the party to save the lives of more than 1000 Jewish individuals by recruiting them to work in his Polish factory. Here are some facts about Spielberg’s groundbreaking film on its 25th anniversary.

1. The story was relayed to author Thomas Keneally in a Beverly Hills leather goods shop.

In October 1980, Australian novelist Thomas Keneally had stopped into a leather goods shop off of Rodeo Drive after a book tour stopover from a film festival in Sorrento, Italy, where one of his books was adapted into a movie. When the owner of the shop, Leopold Page, learned that Keneally was a writer, he began telling him “the greatest story of humanity man to man.” That story was how Page, his wife, and thousands of other Jews were saved by a Nazi factory owner named Oskar Schindler during World War II.

Page gave Keneally photocopies of documents related to Schindler, including speeches, firsthand accounts, testimonies, and the actual list of names of the people he saved. It inspired Keneally to write the book Schindler’s Ark, on which the movie is based. Page (whose real name was Poldek Pfefferberg) ended up becoming a consultant on the film.

2. Keneally wasn't the first person Leopold Page told about Oskar Schindler.

The film rights to Page’s story were actually first purchased by MGM for $50,000 in the 1960s after Page had similarly ambushed the wife of film producer Marvin Gosch at his leather shop. Mrs. Gosch told the story to her husband, who agreed to produce a film version, even going so far as hiring Casablanca co-screenwriter Howard Koch to write the script. Koch and Gosch began interviewing Schindler Jews in and around the Los Angeles area, and even Schindler himself, before the project stalled, leaving the story unknown to the public at large.

3. Schindler made more than one list.

Liam Neeson, Agnieszka Krukówna, Krzysztof Luft, Friedrich von Thun, and Marta Bizon in Schindler's List (1993)
Universal Pictures

Seven lists in all were made by Oskar Schindler and his associates during the war, while four are known to still exist. Two are at the Yad Vashem in Israel, one is at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and one privately owned list was unsuccessfully auctioned off via eBay in 2013.

The movie refers to the first two lists created in 1944, otherwise known as “The Lists of Life.” The five subsequent lists were updates to the first two versions, which included the names of more than 1000 Jews who Schindler saved by recruiting them to work in his factory.

4. Steven Spielberg first learned of Schindler in the early 1980s.

Former MCA/Universal president Sid Sheinberg, a father figure to Spielberg, gave the director Keneally’s book when it was first published in 1982, to which Spielberg allegedly replied, “It’ll make a helluva story. Is it true?”

Eventually the studio bought the rights to the book, and when Page met with Spielberg to discuss the story, the director promised the Holocaust survivor that he would make the film adaptation within 10 years. The project languished for over a decade because Spielberg was reluctant to take on such serious subject matter. Spielberg’s hesitation actually stopped Hollywood veteran Billy Wilder from making Schindler’s List his final film. Wilder tried to buy the rights to Keneally’s book, but Spielberg and MCA/Universal scooped them up before he could.

5. Spielberg refused to accept a salary for making the movie.

Though Spielberg is already an extremely wealthy man as a result of the many big-budget movies that have made him one of Hollywood’s most successful directors, he decided that a story as important as Schindler’s List shouldn’t be made with an eye toward financial reward. The director relinquished his salary for the movie and any proceeds he would stand to make in perpetuity, calling any such personal gains “blood money.” Instead, Spielberg used the film’s profits to found the USC Shoah Foundation, which was established in 1994 to honor and remember the survivors of the Holocaust by collecting personal recollections and audio visual interviews.

6. Before Spielberg agreed to make the movie, he tried to get other directors to make it.

Part of Spielberg’s reluctance to make Schindler's List was that he didn’t feel that he was prepared or mature enough to tackle a film about the Holocaust. So he tried to recruit other directors to make the film. He first approached director Roman Polanski, a Holocaust survivor whose own mother was killed in Auschwitz. Polanski declined, but would go on to make his own film about the Holocaust, The Pianist, which earned him a Best Director Oscar in 2003. Spielberg then offered the movie to director Sydney Pollack, who also passed.

The job was then offered to legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who accepted. Scorsese was set to put the film into production when Spielberg had an epiphany on the set of the revisionist Peter Pan story Hook and realized that he was finally prepared to make Schindler’s List. To make up for the change of heart, Spielberg traded Scorsese the rights to a movie he’d been developing that Scorsese would make into his next film: the remake of Cape Fear.

7. The movie was a gamble for Universal, so they made Spielberg a dino-sized deal.

When Spielberg finally decided to make Schindler’s List, it had taken him so long that Sheinberg and Universal balked. The relatively low-budget $23 million three-hour black-and-white Holocaust movie was too much of a risk, so they asked Spielberg to make another project that had been brewing at the studio: Jurassic Park. Make the lucrative summer movie first, they said, and then he could go and make his passion project. Spielberg agreed, and both movies were released in 1993; Jurassic Park in June and Schindler’s List in December.

8. Spielberg didn't want a movie star with Hollywood clout to portray Schindler.

Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson auditioned for the role of Oskar Schindler, and actor Warren Beatty was far enough along in the process that he even made it as far as a script reading. But according to Spielberg, Beatty was dropped because, “Warren would have played it like Oskar Schindler through Warren Beatty.”

For the role, Spielberg cast then relatively unknown Irish actor Liam Neeson, whom the director had seen in a Broadway play called Anna Christie. “Liam was the closest in my experience of what Schindler was like,” Spielberg told The New York Times. “His charm, the way women love him, his strength. He actually looks a little bit like Schindler, the same height, although Schindler was a rotund man,” he said. “If I had made the movie in 1964, I would have cast Gert Frobe, the late German actor. That’s what he looked like.”

Besides having Neeson listen to recordings of Schindler, the director also told him to study the gestures of former Time Warner chairman Steven J. Ross, another of Spielberg’s mentors, and the man to whom he dedicated the film.

9. Spielberg did his own research.

In order to gain a more personal perspective on the film, Spielberg traveled to Poland before principal photography began to interview Holocaust survivors and visit the real-life locations that he planned to portray in the movie. While there, he visited the former Gestapo headquarters on Pomorska Street, Schindler’s actual apartment, and Amon Goeth’s villa.

Eventually the film shot on location for 92 days in Poland by recreating the Płaszów camp in a nearby abandoned rock quarry. The production was also allowed to shoot scenes outside the gates of Auschwitz.

10. The little girl in the red coat was real.

Promotional image for 25th anniversary rerelease of Schindler's List.
Universal Pictures

A symbol of innocence in the movie, the little girl in the red coat who appears during the liquidation of the ghetto in the movie was based on a real person. In the film, the little girl is played by actress Oliwia Dabrowska, who—at the age of three—promised Spielberg that she would not watch the film until she was 18 years old. She allegedly watched the movie when she was 11, breaking her promise, and spent years rejecting the experience. Later, she told the Daily Mail, “I realized I had been part of something I could be proud of. Spielberg was right: I had to grow up to watch the film.”

The actual girl in the red coat was named Roma Ligocka; a survivor of the Krakow ghetto, she was known amongst the Jews living there by her red winter coat. Ligocka, now a painter who lives in Germany, later wrote a biography about surviving the Holocaust called The Girl in the Red Coat.

11. The movie wasn't supposed to be in English.

For a better sense of reality, Spielberg originally wanted to shoot the movie completely in Polish and German using subtitles, but he eventually decided against it because he felt that it would take away from the urgency and importance of the images onscreen. According to Spielberg, “I wanted people to watch the images, not read the subtitles. There’s too much safety in reading. It would have been an excuse to take their eyes off the screen and watch something else.”

12. The studio didn't want the movie to be in black and white.

The only person at MCA/Universal who agreed with Spielberg and director of cinematography Janusz Kaminski’s decision to shoot the movie in black and white was Sheinberg. Everyone else lobbied against the idea, saying that it would stylize the Holocaust. Spielberg and Kaminski chose to shoot the film in a grimy, unstylish fashion and format inspired by German Expressionist and Italian Neorealist films. Also, according to Spielberg, “It’s entirely appropriate because I’ve only experienced the Holocaust through other people’s testimonies and through archival footage which is, of course, all in black and white.”

13. Spielberg's passion project paid off in Oscars.

Schindler’s List was the big winner at the 66th Academy Awards. The film won a total of seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director awards for Spielberg. Neeson and Ralph Fiennes were both nominated for their performances, and the film also received nods for Costume Design, Makeup, and Sound.

14. Schindler's List is technically a student film.

Steven Spielberg gives a speech
Nicholas Hunt, Getty Images

Thirty-three years after dropping out of college, Spielberg finally received a BA in Film and Video Production from his newly minted alma mater, Cal State Long Beach, in 2002. The director re-enrolled in secret, and gained his remaining credits by writing essays and submitting projects under a pseudonym. In order to pass a film course, he submitted Schindler’s List as his student project. Spielberg describes the time gap between leaving school and earning his degree as his “longest post-production schedule.”

15. Spielberg thinks the film may be even more important to watch today.

In honor of the film's 25th anniversary, it's currently back in theaters. But Spielberg believes that the film may be even more important for today's audiences to see. "I think this is maybe the most important time to re-release this film," the director said in a recent interview with Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News. Citing the spike in hate crimes targeting religious minorities since
2016, he said, "Hate's less parenthetical today, it's more a headline."

Additional Sources:
The Making of Schindler’s List: Behind the Scenes of an Epic Film, by Franciszek Palowski

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2015.

What is Wassailing, Anyway?

iStock
iStock

It’s easy to think that wassailing is some cozy wintertime tradition that’s fun for the whole family. After all, there’s a jaunty, wholesome Christmas carol about it! But the truth is, if you ever see a minor out wassailing, you may want to call his or her parents.

The word wassail has many meanings. For centuries, it was a way to toast someone’s good health. Before the Battle of Hastings in 1066, English soldiers reportedly sang:

Rejoice and wassail!

(Pass the bottle) and drink health.

Drink backwards and drink to me

Drink half and drink empty.

But, in England, wassail also denoted the alcoholic beverage you imbibed during that toast—an elixir of steamy mulled mead or cider. Sometimes, wassail was a whipped dark beer flavored with roasted crab apples.

Wassail was usually slurped from a communal bowl before, during, and after big events and holidays. It was supposedly on the menu during Lammas Day, a pagan autumnal harvest holiday that involves transforming cornhusks into dolls. It was also imbibed on Twelfth Night, a January holiday that involves lighting a fire in an orchard, dancing, and singing incantations to apple trees in hopes of encouraging a bountiful harvest.

By the Middle Ages, the practice of sharing a giant bowl of wassail—that is, the practice of wassailing—evolved from a holiday celebration to a form of boozy begging. “At Christmastide, the poor expected privileges denied them at other times, including the right to enter the homes of the wealthy, who feasted them from the best of their provisions,” Robert Doares, an instructor at Colonial Williamsburg, explained. The poor would either ask to sip from their rich neighbor’s wassailing bowl or would bring their own bowl, asking for it to be filled. According to Doares, “At these gatherings, the bands of roving wassailers often performed songs for the master while drinking his beer, toasting him, his family, his livestock, wishing continued health and wealth.” The original lyrics of Here We Come a-Wassailing are quite upfront about what’s going on:

We are not daily beggars

That beg from door to door

But we are neighbours’ children

Whom you have seen before.

Not all rich folk were happy to see wassailers at their doorstep. One 17th century polymath, John Selden, complained about “Wenches … by their Wassels at New-years-tide ... present you with a Cup, and you must drink of the slabby stuff; but the meaning is, you must give them Moneys.”

Misers like Selden may have had a point: Since alcohol was involved, wassailers often got too rowdy. “Drunken bands of men and boys would take to the streets at night, noise-making, shooting rifles, making ‘rough music,’ and even destroying property as they went among the wealthy urban homes,” wrote Hannah Harvester, formerly the staff folklorist at Traditional Arts in Upstate New York. In fact, boisterous wassailers are one reason why Oliver Cromwell and Long Parliament passed an ordinance in 1647 that essentially banned Christmas.

By the 19th century, wassailing would mellow. Beginning in the 1830s, music publishers started releasing the first commercial Christmas carols, uncorking classics such as God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and The First Noel. Among them were dozens of wassailing songs, including the circa 1850 Here We Come a-Wassailing and dozens of others that are now, sadly, forgotten. As the custom of caroling became the dominant door-to-door pastime, alcohol-fueled begging dwindled. By the turn of the 20th century, carolers were more likely to sing about libations than actually drink them.

But if you’re interested in engaging in some good, old-fashioned wassailing, the original lyrics to Here We Come a-Wassailing are a helpful guide. For starters, ask for beer.

Our wassail cup is made

Of the rosemary tree,

And so is your beer

Of the best barley.

Don’t be shy! Keep asking for that beer.

Call up the butler of this house,

Put on his golden ring.

Let him bring us up a glass of beer,

And better we shall sing.

Remind your audience that, hey, this is the season of giving. Fork it over.

We have got a little purse

Of stretching leather skin;

We want a little of your money

To line it well within.

Screw it. You’ve sung this far. Go for it all, go for the gold, go for ... their cheese.

Bring us out a table

And spread it with a cloth;

Bring us out a mouldy cheese,

And some of your Christmas loaf.

Thirsty for your own wassail? Stock up on sherry and wine and try this traditional recipe from The Williamsburg Cookbook.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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