Life in the Prohibition

By Kira Kinney

The Prohibition, in our minds, was defined by flappers dancing in clubs and people sneaking off to a speakeasy to drink some illegal moonshine. That’s not all that was happening during the 1920’s, however. There was new fashion, new entertainment, and new information constantly coming in. Oregon is no exception to this, with plenty of local and outside influences on the Prohibition experience.


1920’s fashion for women was revolutionary when it came to hemline, shape, and overall design.


Woman in a Modern 1920’s Suit

In this rare colorized photograph, the woman is posing in a black suit jacket, long black suit, and red blouse underneath. She has styled this outfit with dark brown pumps, nude stockings or pantyhose, black gloves, a matching red clutch purse, and a flat-brimmed black hat cocked to the side. She has also had a couple white and blue flowers pinned to the top of her blouse.

This outfit is quite different from those of previous decades because it has taken on a more male look with the jacket stylized to look like it was from a men’s suit. This transition into a more masculine style had become more fashionable in the 1920’s as a bit of a liberation movement, with women wanting to become more equal to men. Another major difference is that the skirt that she is wearing goes above her ankles. Before the 1920’s, it was considered very improper and risque for women to show their ankles. By the start of Prohibition, younger women were wanting to be able to walk easier and were finding that shorter skirts and dresses that showed their ankle were easier to walk in. The stigma behind showing your ankle, while still present in older generations, was slowly going away as the fashion become more and more popular.


Woman with a Floral Print Dress

While some women fully embraced the new fashions, some Oregon women preferred to stay more conservative and only slowly introduced modern elements into their clothes. With this woman, she is sporting a long floral-patterned gown with a pleated collar closed by two flower. While the length of this dress may not show ankle, she is sporting a few minor changes that show the fashion of the decade. Some slight changes would be the sleeves not truly showing and the less defined waist and hips.

The biggest change that can be seen on this woman, though, is not cloth based. It’s the fact that she’s wearing makeup. From the picture, we can see that she has some color on her lips, drawn on eyebrows, and possibly some mascara or eyeliner. The popularization of makeup during the 1920’s was actually also based on the reasoning behind some other style changes; to look more like men. This was especially true with mascara so that women could have the fuller eyelashes that many younger men had.


Woman with the Long, Light Dress

This woman’s full length dress has a light color to it with short sleeves, flowers placed around her dress’s collar, and a small skinny belt with a circular belt. The dress and belt are fairly loose so even though it shows where the waist is, it does not define it very much. Her hair, while it look short, is actually fairly long. While some women went for the newer and shorter haircuts, many stuck with their long hair curled, put into waves, and pinned back in order to make the style look shorter.


Black Cloche Hat

Back during the Prohibition, if you went outside, you wore a hat. This black cloche hat with a black band was a fairly standard hat that was worn by women who were going out. The cloche-style hat was made in 1908 but wasn’t popularized until the 1920s. The reasoning behind the name of this hat is that it’s the french word for bell and the hat is said to be in the shape of a bell. This style of hat was especially popular with women that had a “flapper bob” haircut since the haircut and hat were good compliments for each other.

While men’s fashion didn’t have as much change, it definitely has a distinct style change from the previous decades.


Man with a “Skimmer” Hat

This man, E.H. Leach,  is wearing a dark suit with high lapels while also sporting a matching dark bow-tie, a pair of dark oxford shoes, and a “skimmer” style straw hat. This style of hat is also called a boater because it became very popular in the 1920’s with men who went boating, although it eventually became popular to wear to any outdoor activity. The ribbon around the hat could be changed and would usually have had a specific pattern to represent the college that the man went to or what club they belonged to.


Man on a Pogo Stick

Sporting a different high class look, Ben Olcott is wearing some plus 4 knickers, a sweater over a dress shirt and necktie, long dark socks, a pair of oxford shoes, and a flat cap. This more comfortable style became popular with high class men who wanted to be more active and do more sports while still looking good. This style was especially popular, and still is, with golfers. It eventually became more and more popular outside of those activities and was used as a look that showed that they had the time to do these more leisure-type activities.

In this picture, Ben is shown bounding on a pogo stick. The pogo stick itself was invented in 1919 by a German man named George Hansburg. Pogo sticks became incredibly popular in the United States after the Ziegfeld Follies performed while on pogo sticks. Performing tricks on these things became a national pastime in the 1920’s.

News and Events

From the introduction of Prohibition to the start of the Depression, the 1920’s was constantly filled with new events happening as well as old things continuing to remind everyone that everything doesn’t change overnight.


Newspapers about Hebert Hoover in 1920

Herbert Hoover was elected President of the United States in 1928 and inaugurated in 1929, soon to be thrown into a situation that he would not be prepared for. But earlier in the decade, he didn’t even want to nominated to any political position. Published in ‘The Oregonian’ on March 10, 1920, Herbert Hoover made a statement that “his ambition is to remain a “common citizen””. However two days later, published in the ‘Capital Journal’, it was said that many of Republican representatives that vote for who is a candidate for the Republican party had voted for Hoover as their preferred candidate.


Picture of The Elsinore

One major piece of Salem architecture that people are still impressed with is the Art Deco Elsinore Theater Building. While it was refurbished a few decades ago, the building itself has been around since 1926. The picture above was taken before the theater had officially opened its doors to the public. Even back in the 1920’s, this building was an impressive building to watch concert, plays, and other events in.


Salem Corn Show 1922 Blue Ribbon

The Salem Corn Show was a popular event that especially popular with the farmers around the Salem area, to show everyone who’s corn was the best. This blue ribbon was given to the winner of the show in 1922. The more awards that a farmer got, the more likely that their business would go up.


The Women’s Christian Temperance Union Convention, 1921

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union chapter in Oregon was around since 1883 and was very much a large part in trying to start prohibition. Even when prohibition was in full swing, they still met to have meetings. One possibility for this would be that were trying to find ways to stop the illegal selling and consumption of even stronger forms of alcohol. This ribbon was given out to members at the 38th Annual Convention of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, on Oct 12 -14th, 1921 in Oregon City, Oregon.


Check-up for Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis was nothing new in the 1920’s, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t have a bad effect on people then. Very little was actually known about what Tuberculosis was, how it was transmitted, and how to cure it. As soon as a person was showing signs of Tuberculosis, they were to be sent to a sanatorium to be checked and most likely admitted where the person could be isolated from the rest of society to try and lessen the spread of the disease. This tag shows Siviter Horn getting a check-up at age 9 to see if she’s showing any signs of Tuberculosis. It also shows some tips for this girl to get healthier since she is a bit underweight, which might make her more likely to catch TB.


Letter about Socialism in Salem

While the “Red Scare’ was just starting in the United States with the economic and political system of Communism being introduced to the masses, another system was starting to come across the pond and make people think about what’s the best economic and political system. That system is called Socialism. In this letter from H.W. Elrich, he and some other Socialists are trying to get some funding in order to get some propaganda out into the public in order to promote Socialism to those who did not know much about it. 


With new technologies constantly being introduced, the world of entertainment slowly evolves to incorporate the new wave with the old wave still in popularity.


Theater production in Salem, Oregon

Live theater is still a prominent part of Salem’s charm and character today with several theaters that advertise each other’s newest productions but that theater spirit is nothing new. In the picture above a theater production is being put on. This specific play seems to based in Ancient Greece, possibly a play like Antigone. This play was put on by the Grand Theater in downtown Salem, Oregon.


Kodak Cartridge Premo Camera

Taking pictures with a camera had become very popular soon after it was introduced to the public. The problem was that not many people in the mid to late 19th century had the money or skill to take pictures on their own. Slowly, people started to look into an easier to use camera for more people to use and buy. In 1888, one company came up with their own version of that idea. Kodak started to become a top name in the camera business for over 100 years. The camera above is a Kodak Cartridge Premo that would have been used by more and more people to take their own pictures.


“Univex” 8mm Electric Movie Projector

In addition to the introduction and popularization of pictures, moving pictures were beginning to take shape in the late 19th century. These movies first became popular as just novelties, seeing a 2-d image move. Once the novelty wore out however, people started to put stories to these images and the movie industry started to build up. This object is a “Univex” 8mm electric movie projector. This would have been plugged into and electric outlet and would have projected a movie that was printed onto a film that was winded onto a reel to keep it safe.


Chautauqua program from Salem, Oregon

During the week of July 20-26, 1920 there was an event held in Salem called Chautauqua. Throughout this event were several speakers and entertainers that informed and entertained the audience. Some of the events that happened during the week were several men talking about experiences in WWI, the effect of women working in the Reconstruction efforts after the Civil War, celestial mechanics, Ida Tarbell’s view of the United States at the Peace Conference, Jaroslav Cimera and his Czecho-Slovak band, Mary Adel Hays preforming a recital, and an American that experienced many events of the Russian Revolution for himself.


Portland Mansfield Dancers Program

Theater wasn’t the only thing being presented on the stages of the Theaters of Oregon. On February 19, 1925 the Portland Mansfield Dancers came down to Salem and performed a dance concert at the Grand Theater. This group consists of one man and three women, including Virginia Mansfield, performing “Rhythmic Visualizations of Famous Compositions”. This was a one night only event that many people were sure to have wanted to see.