1920: Prohibition, Parades, and Police, Oh My!

I had never seen so much liquor before in my entire life, and I doubted I would ever again.
“Hurry! Stop staring and just grab a bottle of whatever, I’ve got to lock up the cabinet before Papa comes home!” Charlotte hissed.
There was so much to choose from; I was frozen. None of us had actually believed her when she had said her father had a stockpile large enough to last him until the prohibition laws were repealed. Charlotte was known to exaggerate even the smallest details until they became a tale tall enough to be bound and sold in a corner bookshop. Agog at the sight beholden before me, I quickly scanned the shelves. A shiny green bottle of who-knows-what caught my eye. I plucked it from the top of the cellar and scampered back to the doorway.
Charlotte’s shaking hands fumbled for the right key while I kept a lookout. I could hear each second tick past, counted by the ancient grandfather clock next to the ornate doorway. Each clink-clank of Charlotte trying to force the wrong key into the padlock echoed in my head, as well as the marble room’s twenty-foot ceilings. Something caught my eye.
Was I imagining it?
The door handle
It was turning!
As though God himself guided her hands, Charlotte miraculously found the right key and locked up the cellar right as Master Reginald of Hemingway, a man who favored a life both pompous and pretentious as his namesake, triumphantly burst through the door as though he was being followed by a band of trumpeters in a parade.
While dim-witted and a pompous fool, Master Reginald of Hemingway, Charlotte’s father, found himself the recipient of a massive inheritance. He spent his father’s hard earned money on ridiculous devices and fashions that no one in their right mind would ever dream of. His house, no doubt, reflected that. It stuck out like a sore thumb among the other modest, colonial mansions of our New York City neighborhood. He was dumber than a bag of rocks, and yet no one could hate him for that. Charlotte followed in her father’s footsteps in that regard.
I slid the bottle into the folds of my dress, praying he wouldn’t ceremoniously kiss my hand like he did the last time I was around.
“No way!”
The sun, filtered through the Central Park treetops, glinted off of the green bottle as I pulled it out of my dress.
“Oh my gosh!”
All of our friends murmured in unison as Charlotte recounted our harrowing tail, exaggerating parts of it as usual, turning it into a near death experience
“I can’t believe you made it out of there alive!”
It was a blistering hot, August day, and I was glad to leave my stockings at home. Mother said it was unladylike, and I gave into her demands to wear them, though I peeled them off of my legs as soon as I was out the door. Even then, the heat remained almost unbearable. My dress closely resembled a cake and the amount of layers it had was suffocating. I was jealous of my friend’s parents who supported this “new women” movement. It redefined the women of today.
No longer were women to be shackled to their husbands, they could make decisions on their own. After all, many now worked jobs and earned their own money. Newspapers reported that, “women made up 25 percent of the entire labor force of the country!” (Costly). While hemlines and morals grew shorter, these women “began to spruce up their wardrobes with silk stocking and white gloves” with their new disposable incomes (Currell). Wave of change crashed upon the nation thanks to “changing attitudes toward the place of women in society” (Benner). The 19th amendment had just been ratified a few days ago and thus “women had finally achieved the long-sought right to vote throughout the United States” (History.com)
I could not care less about that. Mother expected me to keep quiet and marry rich. I was of the ripe, old age of seventeen, ready to be wed. Up until now, my life had been no more interesting than dry toast. My father had died when I was quite young and left my mother and I with a considerable fortune at our disposal. While my mother hardly bothered with spiritual matters, Father had been a devout Christian and I wanted to honor that in some way. The weekly church services provided some comfort as well as an escape from Mother’s watchful eye. A flurry of nannies and maids raised me to be prim and proper, with my mother critiquing me every step of the way, whenever she bothered to pay me any attention. From tea parties to luncheons, and brunches to ballrooms, every move of my life had been delicately choreographed. Well, all except my weekly excursions to church. Charlie of Hemingway, Charlotte’s brother, was to be my husband in a few short months. Our parents cavorted to push the two of us together to boost my social status while pooling our riches together to become the highest profile couple in all of New York. Unfortunately Charlie had taken a liking to me. Was it my dazzling personality or the genetics of my mother that reeled him in? The answer was obvious.
How could she have ever married my father, a rich oil tycoon, on brains alone?
Besides, Charlie was somehow dumber than his father. But what he lacked in intellect, he made up for in money. I didn’t mind. As long as he would buy me a dress with a hemline higher than my ankle, I would be perfectly happy being his trophy wife.
As much as I hated my dress, the mountains of layers insulated the bottle that we had stolen, of what I learned was champagne. The cool, sparkling liquid was delightfully refreshing on that hot, summer day. Thankfully, the heat kept most people inside, well, everyone except us. There had been talk of a parade to celebrate the passing of the 19th amendment, throughout Central Park, and we decided to make an afternoon out of it. Rumor had said it would be quite the spectacle.
My friends and I were all alone underneath the shade of and old oak tree, passing the time by passing the bottle of champagne to each other. I laid back on the grassy lawn, feeling the each blade between my fingers, a few poking into the elaborate up do my maid had spent a over an hour perfecting. Staring up at the swaying branches, I spotted some birds flitting to and fro. I envied their freedom. Although they stayed in the oak tree, they could fly away at any moment and were not bound by anyone’s command. The sun wrapped us in its warm comforting blanket and I began to doze off without even realizing.
I jolted awake. The sun had moved a few feet in the sky. It must have been a couple hours later. The heat was almost suffocating, but that was not what woke me. I poked the few friends that had not woken up with the commotion. An enormous group of women marched down the park path and into the street, carrying signs, wearing sashes, and chanting.
I had read about the suffrage rallies in the newspapers, but nothing compared to this celebration. There must have been thousands gathered! A sea of purple, white, and gold rushed through the street, blocking traffic. The air was charged with electricity. One girl even looked to be about my age. I don’t know what got into me, whether it was the excitement or the champagne, but I got up, smoothed out my dress, and ran over to join them. I walked next to the girl and joined in the song, yelling at the top of my lungs. Mother would have declared it to be very unladylike.
We walked several miles through the streets of New York, with angry commuters honking at us, a few even yelling slurs and insults. My feet were quite sore and I definitely had blisters. I was not accustomed to walking such long distances. As we passed by a local pub in the more decrepit side of town, a mob of men surrounded the front of the parade and blocked our path. They seemed very angry with us. I couldn’t understand why, although many seemed quite drunk. Some carried clubs.
“Go back home to your husbands!” one man screamed.
“Stop celebrating this abomination, women don’t belong in politics!” yelled another.
We weren’t doing anything to bother them. More and more of the men began to shout and the mob grew closer and closer. Police sirens echoed from the tall buildings. Although I was afraid, the girl next to me showed no signs of fear. Suddenly a tall, burly man grabbed one of the ladies in the parade by her hair while the others beat her. Her screams were drowned out by the fast approaching police sirens. The rest of the mob charged into the parade, but there was nowhere to run. The police had finally arrived, but unfortunately they boxed us in. I prayed I wouldn’t be trampled. The officers surrounded us.
They didn’t question anyone about what happened. They just started arresting anyone in their path, and beating those who resisted. The chaos that ensued was unimaginable. Everyone tried to make a run for it. Those slow enough got picked up by one of the fleets of officers were shoved into a car. I was unfortunate enough to be one of those; I blamed my pinching shoes.
Mother sent a car to pick me up from the station, and when I got home she lectured me for what seemed like hours. I didn’t regret what I did because I didn’t see anything wrong with my actions. We were just peacefully marching.
Mother said that a boy like Charlie would never want an outspoken and unruly girl like myself, but she never stopped to consider if I wanted him.
Works Cited
Benner, Louise. “Women in the 1920s.” Women in the 1920s | NCpedia, North Carolin b Museum of Histor, 1 Jan. 2004, www.ncpedia.org/history/20th-Century/1920s-women. B Web. 1 Feb. 2018.
Costly, Andrew. “Bill of Rights in Action.” How Women Won the Right to Vote, Constitutional b Rights Foundation, n.d. www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-in-action/bria-20-2-a-how- b women-won-the-right-to-vote. Web. 8 Feb. 2018.
Currell, Susan. American Culture in the 1920s. Edinburgh Univ. Press, 2011. Print.
History.com Staff. “19th Amendment.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2010, b www.history.com/topics/womens-history/19th-amendment. Web. 1 Feb. 2018.
NBC News. “Women’s Suffrage: Marching for Rights 100 Years Ago.” NBC News. 21 Jan. b 2017. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/photo/women-s-suffrage-marching-rights-100- b years-ago-n710246. Web. 7 Feb. 2018.
Sanders, April. “Home Life in the 1920s.” Classroom, Leaf Group Ltd. n.d. b http://classroom.synonym.com/home-life-1920s-18988.html. Web. 7 Feb. 2018.