Dating in the Roaring Twenties

In the 1920s, couples began to date without adult supervision.
... Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The years between World War I and the Great Depression known as the "Roaring Twenties." Marked by an economic boom that enticed young people to move into the cities and live independently, the 1920s redefined the social values of the younger generations. As young adults rebelled against strict, Victorian era moral codes, the interaction between the sexes dramatically changed. It was during the '20s that the term "dating" was coined by young singles who were interested in relationships that were defined differently.

1 Unsupervised and Independent

At the beginning of the 20th century, a shift took place and chaperoned, arranged courting was replaced by independent dating. By the 1920s, many young people left home to live -- and date -- independently in the city. As the system evolved, casual dating became the norm and mingling between the classes became more common. "Blind dates" were also popular. Without parental interference or supervision, dating choices were less affected by wealth and notoriety and more influenced by personal characteristics and qualities.

2 Sexual Exploration and Birth Control

Young people of the 1920s, characterized by the free spirited "flapper," experienced more sexual exploration than their predecessors. They embraced psychologist Sigmund Freud's 1920 Theory of the Libido that emphasized sexual experimentation as a natural human need. As a result, they influenced an increased understanding and acceptance of birth control. In the mid-1920s, the first birth control clinic was opened in the United States, and scientists studying fertility devised the "Rhythm Method" of birth control. Increased interest in reproductive control, paired with more effective contraceptive caps and suppositories, gave women increased control of their own sexuality.

3 Movies and Nightclubs

The development of the movie theater, the radio and nightclubs changed popular culture forever -- and created new and exciting things to do. While the social realm of the previous generations was most often limited to the home, young people of the 1920s experienced incredible social growth elsewhere. For the first time, cars made it possible for couples to travel to date destinations alone. Singles and couples frequented jazz clubs, movie houses and speakeasies. Exuberant dancing filled nights at jazz halls, and popular movies that continued to become more sexually "expressive" drew young people to the movie theaters.

4 Marriage and Divorce

In the early 1900s, Victorian social structures still emphasized marriage and family. By the '20s, more focus was placed on career and social independence. Young adults increasingly chose activities to please their own interests and opted not to actively pursue husbands and wives. Playing the field became a common way to demonstrate popularity, especially in college groups. Still, these relationships often led to exclusive relationships that later resulted in engagement and marriage. As many abandoned the idea that marriage was life's ultimate goal, marriages took place later and divorce rates increased. The prevalence of divorce is apparent in the verbiage of the 1920s, including derogatory terms like "fire alarm" for divorced, experienced women.

Based in the Pacific Northwest and educated at the University of Washington, Rosanne Tomyn has been writing historical, cultural and political articles since 2005. Tomyn was awarded the International Labor Communicators Award for Best Profile and Best Labor History Story in 2011.