A young girl posing with her doll from the 1920s.

When we think about girls in the 1920s, an image of a flapper with her bobbed hair and daring short skirt comes to mind. The flapper is an important part of history, as she paved the way for girls and women to be more worldly and tough, but what about younger girls growing up in the era? As teenagers and young women dismantled traditional ideas about girls, society looked to little girls who still fit into the girlhood mold.
At this time in history, girls were thought of as delicate, virtuous, and pure. Little girls embodied this role as their older sisters rebelled. We see young girls portrayed in this way in classics such as the comic strip Little Orphan Annie. This long-running (1924-2010) and popular comic told the story of a young orphan girl who faced many troubles but remained optimistic, generous, and compassionate. Young girls of the ’20s were expected to have those same characteristics.
Though the little girls growing up in the Roaring ’20s were expected to follow the traditional roles of their mothers and grandmothers before them, everyday life was certainly different for them. Fortunately for these girls, child labor began to decrease and education became more important. With more girls spending their time learning to read rather than working in factories, children’s literature surged with classics such as The Little Red Hen¬†and The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. Playtime included mass produced Kewpie dolls ¬†and newly popular Teddy Bears.
Fashion for young girls also changed during this era. Like the older girls, dresses and hair got shorter, but for little girls this was meant for comfort rather than fashion. Emphasis was placed on soft, easy to clean fabrics such as cotton. The girls probably much preferred the new fashions to the thick, restrictive clothing of the turn of the century.
We so often equate girlhood in the 1920s with the flapper lifestyle, but the changing lives of younger girls were just as important. The girls were in some ways stuck between two eras where they were expected to behave in traditional ways, but societal changes were creating exciting new opportunities to pursue. How fun would it have been to grow up in such a ground breaking time?

-Hillary Hanel
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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