From Luxurious Beach Parties to Speakeasies: The 1920s Rhode Island Experience
The 1920s was a turning point for the United States of America—one that ultimately challenged and changed the country’s ideologies and economic standards. Although this was the decade following the First World War, the country was faring more than it ever did before. The country’s economy was constantly rising, most urban citizens prospered financially, technology continued to evolve, new forms of entertainment were taking over, and societal views on women and equality were being reformed for the better.
The decade was then aptly named the roaring twenties, indicating the various dramatic changes it brought to the country—making America powerful and influential even during the decades that followed.
Rhode Island, the smallest state in America and with the smallest population, experienced the roaring twenties in its own way. Almost all people in the urban areas had extra money to spend, and they spent it mostly on automobiles, businesses, stocks, acquiring the latest products of technology, and partying—basically on anything considered fun and trendy. It’s no wonder people who lived through this decade called it the time of their lives. Throughout those years, its streets had a different life and feel; its people, a myriad of races; and its night life, a mix of thrill and felony.
Luxurious Beach Parties
Beach parties were all too common in Rhode Island, often being participated by the rich and famous. As record players became wireless, it quickly found its newest function: providing the loud music at outdoor parties. From then on, beaches became the common venues for outdoor parties (with jazz as most likely the music being played).
The Street Bustle
The streets of Rhode Island became busier and more crowded. It may have been the early models of automobiles and other forms of transportation augmenting the road traffic. However, a far novel sight was seen on the streets of Rhode Island—natives from different countries crossing paths. A walk down the streets would expose people to a myriad of races rushing to work and meeting appointments. Many immigrants from Europe, North America, and Asia had come to the state in search of greener pastures. In 1911, Rhode Island was recognized as the country’s official point of entry for immigrants.
Another novel and welcome sight also found in the Rhode Island streets at that time were flapper girls joining in the bustle of the urban areas. The new woman—who now smoked, wore flimsy and shorter clothes, worked and depended on herself—freely roamed the streets, no longer confined within the society’s walls of expectations of her gender.
On the other hand, if there was one thing the island family homes had in common, it would be having a radio. By 1920, the radio already became the common necessity for families at Rhode Island. It would be each household’s main source of news, music, and entertainment at home.
Taste of Music
The roaring twenties was also known as the age of jazz. Many jazz clubs sprouted in cities across the country, and jazz music was almost heard from each urban block. The Rhode Islanders fell in love with the genre’s captivating tune. Jazz music would echo from each corner of the urban areas and even from the homes in Rhode Island.
The Rhode Island Night Life: Rum-Running and the Speakeasies
During the Prohibition, also known as the booze ban, the way the rich people of Rhode Island found a more “stimulating” yet forbidden way to entertain themselves.
The Prohibition in the United States was a national ban on the trade of alcoholic beverages that began in 1920 and ended in 1933. All corporate businesses involved in the sale, importation, and transportation of alcohol were stopped by the national government. The goal of the prohibition was to ultimately stop citizens’ alcohol consumption as it was seen as the root of corporate crimes and domestic violence.
However, the Prohibition did not achieve its desired results. Instead, the alcohol trade went underground and into the black market. And because of its convenient location, Rhode Island became an entry and drop-off point for rumrunners and bootleggers of which Rhode Island locals participated in. Soon, Rhode Island catered numerous saloons and speakeasies where the rich and anyone who could afford the booze frequented every night.
Indeed, the roaring twenties was a dramatic time of change for Rhode Island and its people. Life at Rhode Island during those years must have been surreal. One can only imagine what it was like for them to witness and participate firsthand in history’s turning points.
What are your thoughts? Do you happen to know more stories about the 1920s Rhode Island Life? Let’s discuss them at the comments section below! Or you can reach out to me on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. If you want to know more about this era, check out The Promise of Sunrise, a historical romance set in 1920s.
Colletto, John. n.d. “Our Rhode Island Radio Heritage.” Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. Accessed July 10, 2017. http://jrooke.tripod.com/rhodeislandradiohalloffame/id9.html.
Downie, Robert M. 2009. “Island History: The 1920s in early photos and the oldest movie Historic photos of early autos, familiar buildings, old-time baseball, shipwrecks, and the earliest movie made of Block island.” Block Island Times, August 17. Accessed July 10, 2017. http://www.blockislandtimes.com/article/island-history-1920s-early-photos-and-oldest-movie-historic-photos-early-autos-familiar.
Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. n.d. “Prohibition.” Britannica. Accessed July 10, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/event/Prohibition-United-States-history-1920-1933.
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Rhode Island Historical Society. 2005. “Rhode Island History.” A Rhode Island Historical Publication 63, no. 2 (2005). Accessed July 10, 2017. http://www.rihs.org/assetts/files/publications/2005_Sum.pdf.
Swan, B., J. Stanley Lemons, and Marion I. Wright. n.d “Rhode Island.” Britannica. Accessed July 10, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/place/Rhode-Island-state.