C is for College (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)

ROARING TWENTIES - College - The concept of youth as we understand it now was born in the 1920s, inside the colleges where an increasing number of youths went, for the first time free of any social rule imposed by their elders

CYouth was born in the 1920s. This group of people, for the first time in history, became a separated entity both from adults and children, with its own behaviour, values and social structure.
For this new society group, college was a vital place of development.

As young people became more aware of themselves, upper and upper-middle class parents had more possibility and interest in enrolling their children in colleges.
Colleges exploded in the 1920s both with the number of students and the new kind of life college students lead.

Previous to this era, the main influence on a young person’s life were family, church, and community. People would moved from childhood and school straight on to adulthood, work and social obligations.
In the 1920s for the first time, a change in social behaviour and economical possibilities of families allowed a large section of youths to live a long stretch of time as adult, but without the responsibility of adulthood. For those who went to college, this precious new time, this state of youth, was spent away from family and all the traditional influences, which made them freer to pursue their true desire in the way the saw more fit.
Actresses at Mary Pickford's Tea PartyIn college, the greatest influence on the single individual was the peer group, with its values and its mores. So it was in college that the youth culture developed as a separate reality and became stronger. It was in college that new behaviours were fully enjoyed, especially in terms of male/female relations, but also in terms of youths’ relation to anyone else. College students had their own language, their own fashion, their own behaviour. It was such a strong and recognizable lifestyle it became known as ‘collegiate style’ and even those who weren’t college students (even those who weren’t young enough to be students) tried to imitate it.

In this contest, the peer group became extremely important. The individual’s behaviour and values were shaped by the group’s behaviour and values and groups would accept or rejects individuals base on their level of adherence to the group’s codes. These codes were of course based on the youths’ new ideals of companionship, sex-appeal, modern behaviour and thinking. College was where the Twenties youths tailored their very own vision of life.
In fact, social life in college was perceived as so vital by students, that it became more important than academic life to them. Many students would sustain that learning to navigate social groups’ life would prepare them to navigate life on a larger scale far better than any academic course could, especially because those academic courses had been created by older people who knew nothing about modern life and its dynamics.
Or course, this wasn’t exactly what parents and teachers thought.

When we think to the iconic youths of the Twenties – the flapper, the sheik, the pleasure-seekers, the party-goer, the rebel – this is what we are actually thinking about: college students.




Rutgers University Libraries – In Search of Youth: The 1920s at New Jersey College for Women
Brown University – Interviews by Decade: 1920s

Fass, Paula S., The Damned and the Beautiful. American Youth in the 1920s. Oxford University Press, New York, 1977


ROARING TWENTIES AtoZ - College - The concept of youth as we understand it now was born in the 1920s, inside the colleges where an increasing number of youths went, for the first time free of any social rule imposed by their elders

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About the Author

I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.

43 Comments on "C is for College (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)"

  1. Great article! And I love the old pictures and vintage outfits.

    Mee from The Chinese Quest
    Mee Magnum recently posted…“B” is for BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) #AtoZChallenge @AprilA2ZMy Profile

    • Aren’t they gourgeous?
      I love vintage photos myself… and the Twenties fashion… oh, my! Sometimes I think it’s impossible this was nearly 100 years ago.

  2. It must’ve been so exciting to go to college or university during the Twenties. From what I’ve read about and seen in silent films, it seems so fun, with all these new possibilities.
    Carrie-Anne recently posted…Tsar Boris III of BulgariaMy Profile

    • Well, wouldn’t know. It was certainly fun. But when I read Paula Fass’s The ‘Damned and the Beautiful. American Youth in the 1920s’ I also had the impression these young people were missing on something. They were so absorbed going ‘against’ that they seemed to missed on building something stable. This may be the reason why so many of the ‘intuitions’ of the Twenties (that were really in advance on the times) got lost in the following decades.

  3. This post is so insightful, I loved it! I can’t wait to see what comes next!
    Jaime Faulkner recently posted…B is for Backyard FarmingMy Profile

  4. Very interesting. I hadn’t thought of the 20s in those terms but it makes a lot of sense.
    Nick Wilford recently posted…B is for BoyarMy Profile

    • People always think of the Twenties in terms of flapper and bootleggers, is tht what you mean? 😉
      The Twenties were in fact a very interesting time because so many things entered the minds of people. Most of those things were too advanced to really impact time (I really believe so), but it was important that the idea hit people’s conscience.
      I’m always surprise to see how modern people of the Twenties was. They were, in fact, too modern for their time 😉

  5. I love the fashion from the Twenties. And you’re right, many of the icons from the time were young and most likely college students. That is so interesting. 🙂
    Lanise Brown recently posted…B is for BaltimoreMy Profile

  6. Wow! This really opened up my eyes for the 20-ies and their importance. I always thought about the 60-ies as the time Western culture shifted, and had really no idea of this development. College life and the creation of a youth/young adult lifestyle in the 20-ties. Cool!

    And… I also love the vintage pictures. I could happily frame a few of them for my office. They look gorgeous.
    Lene Fogelberg recently posted…Photo shootMy Profile

    • Well, I actually think that many of the young rebels of the 1960s were merely catching up on their grandparents’ achievements 😉

      Truly, the more I study the Twenties in America, the more I feel that is when so many things first started to change. Thing was, people were ready, but the times weren’t, that’s why then the situation stalled for quite a few decades. In many respect, I think people from the Twenteis were a lot more modern and willing to change than people from the 1950s were.

      And… I want a Twenties outfit. I need to get my paws on one!!!!!!!!!

  7. I’ve been catching up on your blog having just discovered it thanks to the A to Z challenge and your comment on my post, and I’m really enjoying it. Fascinating theme to cover for the challenge too. I’ll be coming back!

  8. That’s so interesting, I had no idea that that was when colleges began to take off. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it though :). Thank you for the education.
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)
    Tasha recently posted…AtoZChallenge2015 – C is for CthulhuMy Profile

  9. So that was the birth of college culture. I honestly never knew. I suppose it takes sense though. A lot of the authors I’ve been researching have some from the 1800’s and 1900’s and the pattern I’ve noticed is: home schooled, boarding school and then… either military service or odd jobs until they struck it with one big story.

    I especially loved the movie. The inclusion of the notes for the song cracked me up.


    • “The Plastic Age” isn’t one of my favourite silent movies. “It”, with Clara Bow again, it’s a lot better in my opinion. But here you really see the college culture 🙂

  10. Such wonderful pictures! I hadn’t thought about the collegiate influence, but it makes a lot of sense. People always talk about the sixties and youth, but I can see now the roots started much earlier than that. Thanks!
    Sue Archer recently posted…Rogue Words from A to Z: The Cruelty of CrullersMy Profile

    • Isn’t it true? When I started studying the Twenties, I was shocked to discover how modern those people were. A lot more modern that people who came after for quite a few decades.

  11. This is really interesting. For some reason, I thought that women weren’t in the college scene until many decades later… maybe because of the backwards step in social structure around the 40s and 50s. Or maybe it’s just me being my poor-at-dates self. Fantastic essay. Truly loving your series.
    Alex Hurst recently posted…C is for 文化My Profile

  12. Interesting, I’d never really thought about when college culture started!

    Catching up on some reading now that I have a day off so off to dig back into your A & B!

    Mars xx
    Curling Stones for Lego People
    Mars recently posted…C is for CoresMy Profile

  13. I never really thought about where the whole youth as a separate entity came from. But you’re right, the 20’s were the first time women in volume went away to college and the lifestyle was indeed different from previous generations of young people’s transistion from child to adult. Today, those ties made in college still play a big part in life as an adult. Very interesting article. I really enjoyed it!

    Sia McKye Over Coffee
    Sia McKye recently posted…A GEORGIAN SPIN ON CINDERELLAMy Profile

    • The change actually started in Victorian Era, but in the Twenties it became apparent.
      I find this kind of social history so interesting 🙂

  14. What an interesting and good looking blog not to mention a fun time to live…

    • Why, thanks David and thanks for stopping by.
      Well, as it’s the case today, the Twenties were a fun time to live… depending on who you were 😉

  15. I am really interested in what you will be writing about this month. I enjoyed the other posts. Looking forward to it!

  16. Silvia Villalobos | 3rd April 2015 at 11:33 pm |

    Great post and such beautiful photos. A whole different time, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the change from the family environment to the beginning of the group concept for the youth.
    Silvia @
    Silvia Writes

    • Hi Silvia and thanks for stopping by.
      I learned most of what I know about this subject from Paula Fass’s book. It was indeed very very interesting.

  17. I loved your opening line 🙂 And great picture too! College life is something that I talk a lot about to my culture studies classes. Good to know more about the 20s 🙂

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary
    Tarkabarka recently posted…C is for the Civakacintamani (Epics from A to Z)My Profile

    • You’re very welcome 🙂
      Here in Italy, we don’t have colleges, so this is completely new to me. We do have other forms of youth aggregation that are very much the same.

  18. And I can see it all so clearly from both sides! The freedom afforded the youth, the adventure! The worry and concern the parents must of felt. Whether it was for the good or the bad, seems their change would reverberate through the century and beyond.
    Barbara Hollyfield recently posted…Musical Memories: ChurchMy Profile

  19. College and youth culture in general has been truly influential to our perceptions of the past. In the 20s, absolutely, and of course in the 60s/early 70s with Vietnam protests & the Civil Rights Movement. Excellent post!
    Sabina recently posted…Deer Outside My WindowMy Profile

    • For me, the Twenties college was a discovery. I’ve only seen American college life in films and tv series (I’m Italian), but seems to me as if the basics of what was born in the Twenties are still true. Am I right?

  20. What a great post. I am American and I never really knew this, thank you for sharing this information! From what I can tell, I think you describe the 20’s thru the 80’s thru the 2010’s too… 🙂
    Jeri Burns recently posted…Daily Ghost Post – D is for DraugrMy Profile

    • That’s my feeling too. That what was born in the Twenties in colleges is basically still here… though my experience of it is limited to what I see on screen 😉

  21. Wow! I learn so much from your posts. The societal analysis here answered a question I’ve had for a while now concerning the roots of the near-worship of going to college. Thanks!

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