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The Politics of Prosperity

Mass Consumer Culture in the 1920s

Kimberley A. Reilly, Series editor Joel M. Sipress, and David J. Voelker

Publication Date - 24 July 2020

ISBN: 9780197519219

144 pages
7 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock

Encourage your students to participate in a contested, evidence-based discourse about the human past


Embracing an argument-based model for teaching history, the Debating American History series encourages students to participate in a contested, evidence-based discourse about the human past. Each book poses a question that historians debate--How democratic is the U.S. Constitution? or Why did civil war erupt in the United States in 1861?-- and provides abundant primary sources so that students can make their own efforts at interpreting the evidence. They can then use that analysis to construct answers to the big question that frames the debate and argue in support of their position.

Politics of Prosperity poses this big question: Did mass consumer culture empower Americans in the 1920s?


  • Organized around a big question about which historians themselves disagree: Did mass consumer culture empower Americans in the 1920s?
  • Exposes students to rival positions about which they must make informed judgments
  • Asks students to judge the relative merits of rival positions on the basis of historical evidence
  • Requires students to develop their own positions, for which they must argue on the basis of historical evidence
  • Offers an alternative to the "coverage model" that has dominated History classrooms since the late nineteenth century, and which has consistently fallen short of its own goals since its inception
  • Concise and flexible format allows for inclusion in a variety of classroom settings
  • Each title in the series is edited by Joel M. Sipress and David J. Voelker, award-winning teachers who have published and lectured extensively on reform in the teaching of History
  • The enhanced ebook offers short video clips, flashcards, animated maps, interactive timelines, and additional primary sources

About the Author(s)

Kimberley A. Reilly is an Associate Professor of Democracy & Justice Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Her scholarship has been published in Law and History Review and the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.


"This is an excellent text. The author has chosen a remarkably interesting range of sources--images, videos, and music--that capture the period in its complexity. This is a great way to engage students with the 1920s and a model for how to present history."--Robert Allison, Suffolk University

"The Politics of Prosperity is a very clever way to bring together a variety of different 1920s issues under a main, cohesive question By tying consumption to the broader theme of 'empowerment,' teachers using this text can bring together major economic, political, and cultural trends from the decade."--Matthew Tribbe, Fullerton College

Table of Contents

    List of Figures and Maps
    About the Author
    Series Introduction

    The Big Question


    Historian's Conversations

    Position #1: The 1920s: The Age of Corporate Power
    Position #2: 1920s Consumer Culture: A Site of Personal Empowerment
    Position #3: Consumer Culture and Politically Empowered Americans

    Debating the Question
    1.1 Anne Shaw Faulkner, "Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?" Ladies Home Journal (August 1921)
    1.2 John T. McCutcheon, "City and Country Population," Chicago Tribune (August 1921)
    1.3 "The Psychology of Knees," The Flapper Magazine (June 1922)
    1.4 "All Ford Plants to Shut Down September 16," Motor Age (August 31, 1922)
    1.5 Felix the Cat, "Felix Revolts" (1923)
    1.6 Publicity photo of film actress Anna May Wong, Motion Picture Magazine (April 1924)
    1.7 William L. Chenery, "Ford Backs His Ideas After Ten-Year Test," New York Times (August 10, 1924)
    1.8 President Calvin Coolidge, "Taken on the White House Grounds" film (1924)
    1.9 Bernarr Macfadden, "The Road to Romance," Your Car (May 1925)
    1.10 "A Chicken for Every Pot" advertisement (New York Times, 1928)
    1.11 Consumers' League of New York City, Behind the Scenes in Candy Factories (1928)
    1.12 Jack Woodford, "Radio--A Blessing or a Curse?" Forum (March 1929)
    1.13 James G. Harbord, "Radio and Democracy," Forum (April 1929)
    1.14 Stuart Chase on clothing in the 1920s, Prosperity: Fact or Myth (1929)
    1.15 Christine Frederick, Selling Mrs. Consumer (1929)
    1.16 Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd, Middletown: A Study in Contemporary Culture (1929)

    Case Study 1: African Americans and Consumer Culture
    2.1 J. Williams Clifford, "Appeal to the Negro Race," Washington Bee (February 28, 1920)
    2.2 "Fight South Carolina Attempt at Film Discrimination," Broad Ax (February 2, 1922)
    2.3 Helene Johnson, "Poem" (1927)
    2.4 James Van Der Zee, Untitled Couples Portrait (1929)
    2.5 Paul K. Edwards, The Southern Urban Negro as a Consumer (1932)

    Case Study 2: Advertising and the Flapper
    3.1 "You Need Not Be Embarrassed" Zip Depilatory Ad (1923)
    3.2 "They Talk About You Behind Your Back" Listerine Ad (1923)
    3.3 "Pride in Our Race" Golden Brown Skin Lightener Ad (1923)
    3.4 "Freedom for the Woman Who Owns a Ford" Ad (1924)
    3.5 "Could This Girl 'Vamp' Your Sweetie?" Hi-Ja Hair Straightener Ad (1928)
    3.6 Lucky Strike Ad Featuring Amelia Earhart (1929)
    Reference Materials

    Additional Resources

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