Changing Lifestyle - The Roaring '20s

A. East side, west side and all around the town, alike behind the white lights of Broadway and the somber brownstone fronts in quiet side streets, night clubs have been springing up in New York as suddenly and unexpectedly as mushrooms in rainy weather. A line of limousines and taxicabs parked in front of a dark house may be the only outward and visible sign. You ring a bell and a wary eye surveys you through a peephole; then, if the omens are good (that is, if you resemble neither a policeman nor a federal officer), the door is opened a crack for further enquiry, which may include a demand for a password or a "membership card," and finally you are admitted. What goes on inside?

Popularly it has been supposed that the night club, like the mushroom, is a symptom of wetness, in other words, by-product of the prohibition act. The outstanding characteristic that the clandestine places have in common is that they sell liquor. But last summer even those fairly well informed in New York's vagaries were amazed by a report from the Committee of Fourteen, giving the preliminary findings of a study of night clubs, in which it was shown beyond dispute that the cover of secrecy necessary in dispensing synthetic gin or bootleg whiskey is cloaking still less reputable activities....

Of course it is obvious that these places are, in reality, not clubs at all. They are places which were originated to thwart the prohibition act and are still popularly considered only as violators of that law. It is difficult to place them under one general classification, because they shade up into the realm of the respectable cabaret and they shade down to the prostitution dive, with many on the border-line. . . .

 

B. ...Last summer I was at a student conference of young women comprised of about eight hundred college girls from the middle western states. The subject of petting was very much on their minds, both as to what attitude they should take toward it with the younger girls, (being upperclassmen themselves) and also how much renunciation of this pleasurable pastime was required of them. If I recall correctly, two entire mornings were devoted to discussing the matter, two evenings, and another overflow meeting. . . .

Before the conference I made it my business to talk to as many college girls as possible. I consulted as many, both in groups and privately, as I had time for at the conference. And since it is all to be repeated in another state this summer, I have been doing so, when opportunity offered, ever since. . . .

One fact is evident, that whether or not they pet, they hesitate to have anyone believe that they do not. It is distinctly the mores of the time to be considered as ardently sought after, and as not too priggish to espond. As one girl said - "I don't particularly care to be kissed by some of the fellows I know, but I'd let them do it any time rather than think I wouldn't dare. As a matter of fact, there are lots of fellows I don't kiss. It's the very young kids that never miss a chance. " That petting should lead to actual illicit relations between the petters was not advised nor countenanced among the girls with whom I discussed it. They drew the line quite sharply. That it often did so lead, they admitted, but they were not ready to allow that there were any more of such affairs than there had always been. School and college scandals, with their sudden departures and hasty marriages, have always existed to some extent, and they still do. But only accurate statistics hard to arrive at, can prove whether or not the sex carelessness of the present day extends to an increase of sex immorality...

I sat with one pleasant college Amazon, a total stranger, beside a fountain in the park, while she asked if I saw any harm in her kissing a young man whom she liked, but whom she did not want to marry. "It's terribly exciting. We get such a thrill. I think it is natural to want nice men to kiss you, so why not do what is natural!" There was no embarrassment in her manner. Her eyes and her conscience were equally untroubled. I felt as if a girl from the Parthenon frieze had stepped down to ask if she might not sport in the glade with a handsome faun. Why not indeed? Only an equally direct forcing of twentieth century science on primitive simplicity could bring us even to the same level in our conversation, and at that, the stigma of impropriety seemed to fall on me, rather than on her.

 

C. "Like the breeze in it's flight, or the passage of light,

Or as swift as the fall of a star.

She comes and she goes in a nimbus of dust,

A goddess enthroned on a car.

The maid of the motor, behold her erect with muscles as steady as steel.

Her hand on the lever and always in front, the girl in the automobile."

 

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