Special Report

What Life Was Like in the Roaring Twenties

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Few married women worked outside the home

While women did join the workforce in increasing numbers during the 1920s, often as secretaries or store clerks, the majority remained at home. The commonly accepted idea, by many women as well as most men, was that women should marry, stay home, keep house, and raise children.

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There was no federal law against child labor

In 1920, about a million Americans between the ages of 10 and 15 worked on family farms, in factories, or as messenger or clerks. Safety standards were lax and there was no limitation on hours of employment. Private groups had been agitating for child labor laws since the turn of the century, but a comprehensive child labor law wasn’t passed until 1938.

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There was no federal minimum wage

Though some states passed minimum wage laws of their own as early as 1912, it wasn’t until passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act (the same bill that established rules for the employment of children) in 1938 that a federal minimum wage was established. It was set at 25 cents per hour.

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The 40-hour workweek was introduced in some places

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 also limited the standard work week to 44 hours, but the Ford Motor Company was way ahead of it. The company adopted a five-day, 40-hour workweek in 1926, at a time when workers commonly labored for at least 48 hours a week. Other companies eventually followed Ford’s lead.

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You couldn’t legally buy alcohol

Between Jan. 17, 1920, and Dec. 5, 1933, the manufacture, sale, importation, and exportation of intoxicating liquors was banned in the United States. An exception was made for the home production of wine and cider (though not beer), up to 200 gallons per year, per household — and it was never illegal to actually drink, so many people stocked up on supplies before the law went into effect.