From Ohio History Central
During the 1920s, flapper was the name for young women who dressed provocatively and supposedly were much more open with their sexuality. People of the time usually described flappers as having bobbed hairstyles and wearing thick make-up. The women seemed to want to live life to the fullest, going to clubs, listening to and dancing to jazz music, smoking cigars and cigarettes, and drinking bootleg alcohol.
Many people believe that the 1920s marked a new era in United States history. People often refer to the decade as the "Roaring Twenties," as American men and women sought to escape their boring lives and have much more fun. Following World War I, many people had no desire to return to their supposedly humdrum lives, working in factories or on the farms. They hoped to live a more comfortable life, like the ones that they could see on the movie screens or read about in magazines and newspapers. New social activities arose, illustrating this more carefree lifestyle. Couples could enjoy playing miniature golf, participating in dance contests, listening to the radio or the phonograph, and participating in any number of other events. Premarital sex also increased dramatically during this period. In a survey of 777 women completed in 1938, for women born between 1890 and 1900, seventy-four percent of these women claimed to have been virgins when they married. Of women born after 1910, only thirty-two percent stated that they had abstained from sex before marriage. The flapper supposedly represented this new, less-inhibited lifestyle.
At first glance, it does appear that lives for all Americans, including women, became much wilder during the 1920s. Historians, however, debate this conclusion. Many of the same activities attributed to flappers and other Americans during the 1920s actually predated the decade. Dancehalls existed well before the 1920s. Women drinking and smoking also occurred earlier. Women dressing in a provocative manner happened before the Roaring Twenties. What seems to have made the 1920s so "roaring" was that middle-class white men and women -- flappers -- were engaging in these activities. Men and women from lower-income backgrounds and of different races had participated in some of these events for decades previously.
- Latham, Angela. Posing a Threat: Flappers, Chorus Girls, and Other Brazen Performers of the American 1920s. N.P.: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.