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The first half of the twentieth century was a very important period for the United States as it abounds with various significant events that defined the development of the country till the present time. These events had a great impact on the social, political, economic and cultural spheres of American life. This essay will explore major events that shaped America, analyze crucial social changes that happened during this period and focus on the life of minorities and disenfranchised groups in the first half of the twentieth century.
It is rather difficult to single out only three majors events in the history of the USA from 1900-1945, but the best solution seems to focus on the events that had the strongest repercussions. The Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution approved by the Congress in 1919 was a very important step in the development of social freedoms. It says, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” (Amar, 2005). This amendment should be understood as one of the first crucial stages aimed at granting equal rights for all people disregarding their gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. The second event is the Great Depression of the 1930s that brought much suffering and shock to the American nation, but at the same time can be considered “a great school of experience out of which some worthwhile lesson may be salvaged” for the modern economy (Roth, Ledbetter & Roth, 2009). The third important event is obviously the USA joining the Second World War. It would be necessary to mention the WWI as well, but the role of America in the Second World War was much more significant. Probably it would be better to narrow the start of the WWII for America to the events at Pearl Harbor in 1941 (Report on the navy and the war, 1943). This episode forced the government to make the final decisions about the level of the US involvement into the WWII (Reynolds & Dee, 2001).
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The changes in American life between 1900 and 1945 were quite significant. The technological advancements had a great impact on different spheres, but the biggest influence could be witnessed in the area of urban development. The cities grew rapidly boosted by both new technologies that enabled faster construction and high rate of immigration causing a rapid increase in the population. The problem of city growth led to such newspaper headlines as Intolerable city: Must it keep on growing? where the author shows what negative impact cities can have on the lives of common people (Mumford, 1926). Consumerism at this period created the demand that the American economy had to satisfy. It resulted in the emergence of numerous corporations that focused on the en masse production. When GM introduced an annual change in the model line in 1925, it started a popular trend among consumers to buy the latest models of goods. American consumerism was also boosted by a developed system of loans to people who wanted to buy certain goods, such as cars, but could not afford it. Expanding powers of national government was required to control the economy of the country during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s New Deal was supposed to introduce intense government action on the national level. These measures dramatically increased the powers and responsibilities of the national government, but at the same time reduced the independence of the states. Some authors also argue that such steps led to a certain decrease of individual freedoms (Amar, 2005).
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The lives of minorities and disenfranchised groups also witnessed many significant changes. After women had got the right to vote in the 1910s, they began to develop these achievements and in the 1930s modern American feminism emerged. The WWII also had a great impact on the role of women in the society as many men went to war and it was necessary to replace them at factories, plants, etc. Therefore, many jobs that had been traditionally considered “male” were done by women. However, for African American population the improvement was not significant. Despite the fact that African Americans took an active part in all spheres of life and bravely fought during both wars, they still remained discriminated and segregated. It can be seen, for example, from a biography of an African American nurse published by Independent where the woman repeatedly compares her life with slavery (More Slavery, 1912). However, there was certain cultural progress in the 1940s when such organizations as the National Negro Opera Company or theUnited Negro College Fundwere created. The situation with the LGBT community was even worse. No success in granting equal rights to the representatives of this social group was seen between 1900 and 1945. Homosexual students were expelled from universities (e.g. 1920 Harvard Secret Court case, etc). Homosexuality was perceived as a dangerous deviation, and it was used for disqualifying many men and women from the US Army during the WWII.
To conclude, the first half of the twentieth century was a very important period in American history. The two world wars, the Great Depression and many other events had a huge impact on the direction of the nation’s development. Despite some successes in the sphere of equal right, such social groups as African Americans and LGBT community still suffered from discrimination and oppression. This period was also characterized by high levels of consumerism and urban growth.